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Healey WILLAN (1880-1968)
Hymns, Anthems, Motets
In the heavenly kingdom, Op. 380 B380 (1924 completed F.R.C.Clarke 1979) [8:45]†
St Osmund, Op. 449 B449 (1927) [3:20]†
Sun of Righteousness, Op. 438 B438 [3:22]†
How they so softly rest, Op. 302† [B302] (1917) [3:48]†
Anthem on Ye watchers and ye holy ones, Op. 403 B403 [4:35]†
Missa Brevis No. 11, "Sancti Johannis Baptistae", Op. 226 B266
Kyrie [2:05]†
Sanctus [1:05]†
Benedictus qui venit [1:20]†
Agnus Dei [2:40]†
I looked, and behold a white cloud, Op. 344 B344 (1907) [7:16]†
(Joseph Schnurr, tenor / Matthew Larkin, organ)
Preserve us, O Lord, Op. 310 B310 (1928-37) [1:44]†
O King all glorious, Op. 311 B311 [2:44]†
Anthem on Picardy, Op. 405 B405 [5:06]†
Christ hath a garden, Op. 352 B352 (1940) [3:33]†
Anthem on O quanta qualia, Op. 394 B394 [3:52]†
O how glorious, Op. 304 [1:35]†
O praise the Lord, Op. 377 B377 (revised 1963) [7:50]†
Rise up, my love, my fair one, Op. 314 B314 [2:26]†
Elora Festival Singers/Noel Edison
Matthew Larkin (organ)
rec.St Johnís Church, Elora, November 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557734 [67.07]

It should be little surprise to Willan and Elora-Edison watchers that this is so conspicuously successful a disc. A previous Naxos disc from the Elora forces, one of Canadaís very finest, was Faire is the Heaven which brought us Willanís Marian motets as well as rare things from the pens of Gordon Slater, Imant Raminsh, Bryan Kelly and Sydney Campbell among others (see reviews by GH, JP and JQ). And that was a splendid conspectus, sung with great warmth yet clarity. If appetites were whetted for more Willan they have been handsomely met with this release.
Taking in the important Missa Brevis and Willanís ďgreatest hitĒ, Rise up, my love, my fair one, we find in between these twin poles hymn-anthems and motets of varying sizes. In the heavenly kingdom opens and closes with grand and expressive power. The performance throughout demonstrates the strengths of the choir - clean, clear with a certain purity about it and with a fine blend. Willanís music always sounds graceful and even when it makes powerful demands, as it certainly does with its high tessitura in Sun of righteousness, it possesses the great gift of unselfconscious melodic distinction - as in his hymn St Osmund.
There are impressionistic moments here and there, passing phrases which may remind one of, say, Delius. And there are some moments but much briefer in which one feels the weight of the Russian tradition - thatís certainly my feeling as I listened to the basses in the Hymn-Anthem Ye watchers and ye holy ones, a performance notable for the well calibrated weight of choral tone and the highly secure intonation of all voice types.
There are times when Willan consciously evokes earlier sonorities - he does so in O King all glorious - but such moments are relatively rare. Throughout we hear how expertly he judges the climax of a piece, how supremely he sculpts lines and there can surely be no finer example of this than the Anthem on Picardy, which grows with inexorable directness. That he can end with beatitude is shown in Christ hath a garden. And his capacity to be all embracing in these settings - archaic, yet timeless - is best invoked by his O praise the Lord, which builds to a joyful climax through the most acute and perceptive word setting and control of vocal nuances.
Thereís really not a negative word to be said about either performances or works. The notes by Giles Bryant - who was responsible for the Willan B numbers listed next to the opus numbers - tell you all you need to know. And with first-rate sound in St Johnís Church in Elora you have a first-call Willan collection.
Jonathan Woolf


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