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O Gladsome Light

Sacred songs, hymns and meditations by Holst, Rubbra and Vaughan Williams


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Related Artists: Lawrence Wiliford, Marie Bérard, Keith Hamm, Steven Philcox


 

Catalogue No: 5060192780765


Reviews
 

Wiliford sings beautifully in what one might call the ‘Aldeburgh style.’ It’s light, clear, sensitive and every word is clearly audible…it does the music full justice. (Opera Canada)

The latest in tenor Lawrence Wiliford’s extensive discography is O Gladsome Light, released on Stone Records; the album is a collection of sacred songs by Gustav Holst, his friend and colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams, and his composition pupil Edmund Rubbra. “This project was largely inspired by my upbringing in the church (my father and mother are both pastors) and my musically formative years singing sacred works in the American Boychoir and the St. Olaf Choir.” O Gladsome Light groups together some of Canada’s best in song and chamber music. Wiliford is joined by pianist Stephen Philcox, frequent recital partner of the tenor’s and co-founder of the Canadian Art Song Project, violinist Marie Bérard, and violist Keith Hamm, both members of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra. They play in varied combinations, and throughout the album the four musicians create a sound that is timeless and almost pan-stylistic, a beautiful and eerie effect. Wiliford’s own upbringing, strongly rooted in the church, is perhaps why O Gladsome Light is full of gorgeous surprises, no predictable survey of sacred music. The songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams are well-known among art song lovers, yet his Four Hymns for Tenor, piano and Viola are rarer gems. Philcox begins the set with a dreamy piano sound, and the set seems to fill out boldly, boasting a symphonic sound that belies the small ensemble. Rare and welcome too are the songs by Gustav Holst, a composer perhaps better known for his orchestral work. His Four Songs for Voice and Violin are haunting, with a sound that could be from any place, at any time. The simplicity of combining voice and strings – the purity of the harmonies and of Wiliford’s assured tone – feels like a nod to a very old tradition. The songs by Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) are the real find in this album. His sound is unique, and his is style that’s difficult to place, but eventually emerges as English – yet with an edge. The selections of O Gladsome Light are dense in meaning, and the interpretation by Wiliford is magnetic. There’s humility in Rubbra’s Rune of Hospitality, the rock of a lullaby in A Duan of Barra, and something beautifully feminine about Jesukin. In a lovely nod to Rubbra’s versatility as a composer, the album includes two moving solo pieces: his Variations on a Phrygian Theme for solo violin (played by Marie Bérard), and Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola (played by Keith Hamm). Throughout this album, Wiliford’s sound is strong yet gentle, always thoughtful. O Gladsome Light is a carefully crafted album that shows the tenor’s constant attention to detail, from the research and curation of this inspired collection of repertoire, to the music-making itself. (Schmopera)

That tenor Lawrence Wiliford’s voice is perfectly suited to English repertoire is clearly illustrated on this recording. In songs and hymns by Gustav Holst, his lesser-known student Edmund Rubbra and contemporary Ralph Vaughan Williams, Wiliford displays his gift for expressiveness, sensitivity to text and challengingly high tessitura. These qualities were assimilated through his experiences singing in the church since boyhood, roles in Canadian Opera Company productions and as co-founder of the Canadian Art Song Project along with pianist Steven Philcox (who also accompanies beautifully on this recording). Because Rubbra is relatively unknown, we are grateful for the singer’s inclusion of transcendent modal songs such as The Mystery and Rosa Mundi as well as Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola played sublimely by Keith Hamm and Variations on a Phrygian Theme for solo violin on which Marie Bérard displays her signature sweetness of tone. (Both Hamm and Bérard are members of the COC orchestra.) Also of note from Rubbra is Hymn to the Virgin and Jesukin. Upon first hearing, I spent several minutes searching through liner notes for the name of the harpist. In fact, Rubbra had cleverly composed his accompaniment by the use of spread piano chords, resulting in a “harp-like rendition” played so rockingly gentle by Philcox that one is easily lulled and thus bewildered, but happily so. (The Whole Note)

This Canadian tenor has the kind of voice that could convince rock ’n’ roll fans to give art song and even opera a fair shake. Unlike the many classically trained singers who sacrifice texts on the altar of sound, Wiliford adds to his skillfully modulated purity of tone a clarity of diction that makes what he’s singing easy to understand. So although the printed lyrics of these 19 exquisite “sacred songs, hymns and meditations by Holst, Rubbra and Vaughan Williams” (the subtitle) are included, you won’t need them. (World Magazine)

Wiliford has become a matchless artist (The Globe and Mail)

Track listing

  1. Jesu Sweet, now will I sing (Holst)
  2. My soul has nought but fire and ice (Holst)
  3. I sing of a maiden that matchless is (Holst)
  4. My Leman is so true (Holst)
  5. Hymn to the Virgin (Rubbra)
  6. Cradle Song (Rubbra)
  7. Jesukin (Rubbra)
  8. Variations on a Phrygian Theme for solo violin (Rubbra)
  9. A Prayer (Rubbra)
  10. The Heart Worships (Holst)
  11. Rune of Hospitality (Rubbra)
  12. The Mystery (Rubbra)
  13. Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola (Rubbra)
  14. Rosa Mundi (Rubbra)
  15. Lord Come Away (Vaughan Williams)
  16. Who is this fair one (Vaughan Williams)
  17. Come Love come Lord (Vaughan Williams)
  18. Evening Hymn (Vaughan Williams)
  19. A Duan of Barra (Rubbra)