“Corridors of Light – Music of William Ferris” = WILLIAM FERRIS : Gloria for Mixed Chorus, Solo Quartet & Orchestra; Ed e Subito – Solo Cantata; Bristol Hills, a Reflection for String Orchestra; Corridors of Light – Wm. Ferris Chorale etc. – Cedille

by | Dec 21, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“Corridors of Light – Music of William Ferris” = WILLIAM FERRIS : Gloria for Mixed Chorus, Solo Quartet & Orchestra; Ed e Subito – Solo Cantata for Tenor & String Orchestra; Bristol Hills, a Reflection for String Orchestra; Corridors of Light for Baritone, Oboe, Piano, Percussion & String Orchestra – William Ferris Chorale/ Composer Festival Orchestra/William Ferris/Chicago String Ensemble/Alan Heatherington /London Symphony Strings/Arnie Roth /Vocal soloists – Cedille Records CDR 7004, 71:40 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Being from Chicago, I have been aware of William Ferris and his wonderful chorale. I am a little less familiar with Ferris’s work as a composer and arranger. Ferris died in 2000, leaving a solid legacy in the Chicago musical scene as a conductor, as a promoter of living American composers and as a lively and passionate promoter of the arts with an avid following. This wonderful new disc from the Chicago-based Cedille FOUNDation reveals Ferris as composer.

Stylistically, his music is not a far cry from the tonal, melody-laden and audience-pleasing genre typified by John Rutter, for example. This is a compliment, for Ferris wanted music to attract and captivate and Ferris wrote music that he “would want to listen to.” Each piece in this collection is, indeed, attractive and well crafted. The opening work, a setting from the Latin “Gloria” was written in 1992 and does impart both a very spiritual sound as well as exuberance pertinent to the tone of the text. Ferris was a big fan of the choral works of some of the French composers, such as Poulenc and Honegger, but this work is more clearly inspired by the text itself. In this performance, the Ferris Chorale and the solo quartet perform wonderfully.

“Ed e Subito Sera” (and, Suddenly, It’s Evening) is a very different but also strongly written and accessible work for a solo tenor and strings. The four movement work, written in 1965, is based on poetry by the mid-twentieth century poet and philosopher Salvatore Quasimodo. The texts are practically transcendental in their depictions of nature, life and, implicitly, of aging. The vocal writing is strong and tenor John Vorrasi, a long time friend and collaborator of Ferris, gives a musically excellent and emotionally impacting performance. The final aria, “Perhaps the Heart” is especially poignant in its resignation, tinged with comfort.

“Bristol Hills” (1969) offers a quite different view of Ferris’s output. This brief plaintive work for string orchestra is lush and very picturesque in its feel. It reminded me a bit of the nature inspired works by some of the lesser known English writers, such as Hubert Parry or Gerald Finzi. Like the “outdoors” pieces of those composers, Ferris intended “Bristol Hills” as a reflection on the scenery in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and his time there with John Vorrasi. The work is dedicated to Vorrasi and is intentionally lush, romantic and pastoral in its impact. The London Symphony Strings under Arnie Roth perform very well and have a very unified sound, full and scenic at times, necessarily light and wispy at others.

The title work for this disc, “Corridors of Light”, from 1994, takes its name from words and the resultant image in the poem, “The Truly Great” by American poet Stephen Spender.  This is the most full and declamatory piece in this set, with big sonorous orchestral writing and a full choral timbre. The work features a prominent baritone soloist, in this case the great John Shirley-Quirk and a very nice, atmospheric oboe obbligato; performed wonderfully by another late great Chicagoan, Sarah Watkins. The effect of this piece is majestic. There is a true cantata feel bolstered by the large scale sound and the superb performances including the William Ferris Chorale and orchestra under the direction of the composer. The text is a bold dramatic paean to those Spender and the reader consider “truly great”. The imagery is almost akin to Blake in its use of nature to extol humanity (sunlight, rocks, flowers, waving fields, et cetera).The intended “great” could be almost anyone – war heroes, personal sacrifice, defenders of the downtrodden or perhaps any single person who stands for what is right. The poem and the music make a strong case for the “Truly Great.”  Anyone not very familiar with Ferris or his music should listen to this and, I believe, would wonder if it is time that – in the world of American born choral masters and composers – Ferris also be counted among the truly great.

— Daniel Coombs

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