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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

RECORD KEEPING | Lawrence Wiliford's Pitch-Perfect 'O Gladsome Light' Shines The Way

By Paul E. Robinson on February 20, 2018

O GLADSOME LIGHT. Sacred Songs, Hymns and Meditations. Holst: Four Songs for Voice and Violin Op. 35. The Heart Worships. Rubbra: Hymn to the Virgin; Variations on a Phrygian Theme for solo violin Op. 105; Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola Op. 117, etc. Vaughan Williams: Four Hymns for tenor, piano and viola. Lawrence Wiliford, tenor. Marie Bérard, violin. Keith Hamm, viola. Steven Philcox, piano. Stone Records. Total Time: 58:38.
O GLADSOME LIGHT. Sacred Songs, Hymns and Meditations. Holst: Four Songs for Voice and Violin Op. 35. The Heart Worships. Rubbra: Hymn to the Virgin; Variations on a Phrygian Theme for solo violin Op. 105; Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola Op. 117, etc. Vaughan Williams: Four Hymns for tenor, piano and viola. Lawrence Wiliford, tenor. Marie Bérard, violin. Keith Hamm, viola. Steven Philcox, piano. Stone Records. Total Time: 58:38.

The title of this fine new recording, O Gladsome Light, was taken from the poem “Evening Hymn” by Robert Bridges (1844-1930), one of the four hymns on this CD set to music in 1914 by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for the unusual combination of tenor voice, piano and viola. In this joyful and inspiring piece, the composer uses a striding bass line to propel the music forward to a ringing climax. One could hardly imagine a better performance than the one on this album, with Canadian tenor Lawrence Wiliford offering pitch-perfect intonation and beautiful tone. Wiliford, who in his early years sang in the American Boychoir and the St. Olaf Choir, has since built a major career in both opera and concert, in Toronto and elsewhere.

This entire album has been put together with exceptional thoughtfulness, bringing together some of the lesser-known music of three of the greatest British composers of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Another admirable feature is the repertoire selected, which goes beyond the usual vocal repertory for voice and piano, making use of additional instruments such as violin and viola.

I was struck in the opening selection on this CD — “Four Songs for Voice and Violin Op. 35” by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) — by how deftly the composer interweaves the violin and the tenor voice to capture the essence of these anonymous religious texts. Marie Bérard, the concertmaster of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, plays beautifully.

Recorded at Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto, producers Bonnie Silver Kraft and Norbert Kraft have captured the ideal sound quality for the artists and the repertoire featured on this CD.

Edmund Rubbra’s “Jesukin,” originally composed for voice and harp, has been convincingly transcribed for piano, with Steven Philcox providing rolling harp-like chords. Many of these songs by Holst, Rubbra and Vaughan Williams are largely slow-moving and meditative; listened to one after the other, they can become somewhat soporific. Fortunately, we are given several instrumental pieces to provide variety — e.g., Rubbra’s Variations on a Phrygian Theme for solo violin Op. 105, a mellifluous piece played with fine tone and sensitivity by Marie Bérard.

Another Rubbra work, Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola Op. 117, written when the composer was in his eighties, is played with warmth and style by Keith Hamm, principal violist of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra.

It should be noted that tenor Lawrence Wiliford and pianist Steven Philcox are co-founders and co-artistic directors of the Canadian Art Song Project, which will present its next concert at Walter Hall on March 19, in a program that includes the premiere of Jeffrey Ryan’s Miss Carr in Seven Scenes, inspired by artist Emily Carr. Steven Philcox will also lead the Art of Song Program, as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival (July 9-21).

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

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Paul E. Robinson

Paul E. Robinson

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as a broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere.
Paul E. Robinson
Paul E. Robinson

Paul E. Robinson

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as a broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere.
Paul E. Robinson
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