O GLADSOME LIGHT.
O GLADSOME LIGHT
Stone Records LC20371
O Gladsome Light is a collection of sacred songs, hymns and meditations by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and his pupil Edmund Rubbra. They are performed by various permutations of Lawrence Wiliford, tenor; Stephen Philcox, piano and, Marie Berard and Keith Hamm, respectively Concertmaster and Principal Violist of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra.
The disc kicks off with Hoist's Four songs for voice and violin, op. 35. They are quiet, meditative settings of anonymous medieval devotional texts and pretty much set the mood for the rest of the recording. The Rubbra songs that follow are similar in style and mood. This is perhaps accentuated by the accompaniments which are intended to mimic the harp. In this, and a second set of Rubbra songs, there is a strong 'Celtic twilight' influence that does little to up the energy level. The same might be said of Hoist's "The heart worships", another meditative number.
Things do get a bit livelier with Vaughan Williams' Four hymns for tenor, piano and viola, which set an eclectic group of devotional poems. The accompaniment is much denser and more dramatic and makes fuller use of the potential of the piano. The two solo numbers by Rubbra for violin and viola respectively also add some much needed contrast.
I can't fault the performances. Wiliford sings beautifully in what one might call the 'Aldeburgh style'. It's light, sensitive and every word is clearly audible. I think it does the music full justice. His collaborators are equally sensitive. What I might question is how many people would want to listen to an hour of music all very much in the same, quiet emotional space. Perhaps it's more a disc for dipping into.
The recordings of the vocal numbers were made at Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto and have a resonant, churchy, acoustic that is perfectly appropriate to the music. The same is true of the two instrumental pieces recorded at St. John Chrysostom in Newmarket. Full texts and a great deal of useful explanatory material is included in the accompanying booklet.