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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.’
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.
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.
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