In his insightful liner notes to the Westminster Williamson Voices’ Hole in the Sky (CD995 on the GIA Choral Works label – www.giamusic.com), conductor James Jordan quotes a line from the text of Thomas LaVoy’s setting of “As I Walk the Silent Earth” and eloquently speaks about “certain pieces of music that, by their very nature, ‘tear a hole in the sky…of our spirits and souls’.”
The worship music sung by the extraordinary double ensemble that makes up the Westminster Williamson Voices does speak directly to the spirit of the listener. It did to me.
The Spheres from Sunrise Mass I by the Norwegian-American Ola Gjeilo provides a haunting introduction to the album, eliciting seamless phrasing and subtle dynamics from the ensemble.
James Joyce’s Rain on Rahoon is the text for Eric Whitacre’s She Weeps Over Rahoon, with its intriguing use of pianissimo whispers simultaneous to singing, nicely executed by the choir.
Stephen Paulus’ Pilgrims’ Hymns takes a biblical passage and infuse it with theatricality, to which the ensemble responds in kind.
Aaron Copland’s arrangement of the Baptist hymn, Shall We Gather at the River is soulfully sung by Jordan’s troops.
Through fifteen impeccably-engineered tracks (Jon C. Baker Recordings), the The sound of the upper voices is lyrical, the bass sound at the opposite end of the staff rock solid, the inner voices of the altos and tenors always up front and present, creating an ongoing balance in all the tracks.
The ensemble comfortably transitions from a note-perfect Kyrie by Victoria to the Romanticism of Mendelssohn’s Veni Domine and Bruckner, to the ecstatic mysticism of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Da pacem Domine, and on to very fine settings by Dan Forrest, Alice Parker, Britten and Duruflé.
Guided magisterially by James Jordan, the Westminster Williamson Voices sing with flawless musicianship, exquisite musicality and gorgeous vocalism. This is one of the most satisfying releases of choral music in this listener’s memory.
Rafael de Acha