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Arthur WILLS (b. 1926)
Full of Wills!
Te Deum Laudamus (1967) [5:39]
Missa Brevis (1980) [11:03]
Ave Verum corpus (1960) [2:46]
The Carol of King Canute (1967) [1:54]
‘Ely’ (1984) [5:57]
Organ: March – ‘City of Ely’ (1981-1994) [7:42]
There is no rose (1976) [4:03]
Sing a new song (1964) [2:09]
Evening Canticles (1968) [6:45]
‘Caedmon’ (1985) [24:09]
The boys of Ely Cathedral Choir/Paul Trepte
Jonathan Lilley (organ; piano)
rec. Ely Cathedral, 1-3 May 2007
GUILD GMCD7315 [72:53]


I used to have one-to-one harmony and counterpoint lessons with Arthur Wills as part of the baffling B.Mus. degree course at the Royal Academy of Music. I had already perfected a sphinx-like inscrutability in order to conceal my ignorance during other lectures, but there was nowhere to hide in Dr. Wills’ tiny room in the rear annex, and while I enjoyed discovering all about retrograde inversions and melodic augmentation I fear the severe averageness of my academic talents were all to obvious to my grand tutor. Arthur was in fact very kind to me, accepting me onto that high-powered course with no real evidence of any brilliance on my part, and giving me the benefit of the doubt after I had initially been accepted onto the Performer’s Course – which at the time seemed to require no discernable academic talent or motivation whatsoever. The benefit to me was that when I was kicked off a year later I was miles ahead of my poor colleagues on the in-between degree course of the GRSM; my sphinx-like inscrutability no longer such a necessary survival tool when told ‘not to answer that question, he’s already done it last year.’
 
Needless to say, the works on this CD are beautifully crafted in every way. They mostly share the kind of gentle English music world of someone like Herbert Howells, and with Wills’ directorship of music at Ely Cathedral from 1958 to 1990 these pieces are heard in their ideal setting, and with the accompaniment of an organ which the composer knows as well as his own doormat. The organ receives one impressive solo, the ‘City of Ely’ march, originally part of a symphonic work for brass band and organ.
 
The choral works are accompanied by piano or organ, the piano giving an entirely different colour and idiom to the music. Take the opening of ‘Caedmon’, the Children’s Cantata which concludes the programme, which has more of the impact of something by Benjamin Britten; at times even that of Carl Orff in the dark meanderings of Nr.6. The boys’ voices in this recording invite such comparisons, but both composers know how to create realistic and attractive but at the same time challenging repertoire for young voices. There is plenty of rhythmic fun, and unison writing which gives the piece an inclusive quality. It is certainly the kind of work which would do well in a variety of settings, from village concert to international competition.
 
There is a great deal of variety to be found here, and a very wide time-span. The earliest of the pieces, Ave Verum corpus, has a quiet sensibility which owes a little to the Agnus Dei in Duruflé’s Requiem. Pieces such as the Te Deum Laudamus are of practical use during church or chapel services, adding pungent harmonic qualities to an environment where the music might be expected to have more bland conformity. The Missa Brevis is one of the more recent works on the disc, having been written at speed for a celebration concert of the Auckland Boys’ Choir. Despite its brevity, it has some emotionally charged movements, such as the dramatic Gloria, a touching solo for the Lord’s Prayer, and a valedictory Agnus Dei.
 
This is a nicely presented CD with full texts included and notes on each piece by the composer. Like the previous Guild release of Arthur Wills’ organ music, called Wondrous Machine! I am however less than enthusiastic about twee titles like Full of Wills!, or indeed any title ending in an exclamation mark. It’s a choice one can make, but to me it has a feeling of misplaced modesty about music which can hold its own in almost any surroundings – Darmstadt excepted perhaps, but my work would be eaten alive there as well. The only weakness on this release is the quality of the voices. Young voices have a naturally vulnerable feel, and this is part of their attraction. There are many very nice moments in these pieces, and the choir does well for the most part, but don’t expect quite the same standard as King’s College Cambridge. Like the scruffy bunch pictured on the back of the booklet, they exude enthusiasm, enter fully into the spirit of the music and have clearly worked up a fine sense of ensemble and phrasing. If they lack the last ounce of refinement, then I would still have to compliment them on such results with a relatively compact group of 22 voices. Such an addition to the UK’s rich contemporary choral tradition is to be warmly welcomed, and I commend it to fans of fine church music everywhere.
 
Dominy Clements                                 
 



 


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