"At last: a first-rate recording of Healey Willan's sublime Marian motets--I beheld her; Fair in face; Rise up my love--that surpasses the only other renditions on disc... these by Noel Edison and his all-around superior Choir of St. John's, Elora (Ontario) are models of sensitive, nuanced choral singing that fully exploit Willan's unwritten but implied interpretive gestures.
And for these three brief little gems, the disc would be worth even premium price--but we also are treated to a generously filled program that includes top-notch versions of Herbert Howells' Te Deum and two splendid settings of Ave verum corpus, one by Imant Raminsh and the other, perhaps unsurpassable conception by Mozart. The opening hymn-anthem by Gordon Slater--a magnificent setting of Jesu, the very thought of thee--combines a dancing organ accompaniment with the popular hymn-tune to create a sophisticated and eminently singable work that should receive serious attention from church choirs everywhere. Likewise Raminsh's Ave verum corpus, whose rich harmonies and chant-like melodies invite the consideration of singers who desire accessible, rewarding, audience-pleasing music, or Bryan Kelly's energetic Magnificat, whose lighthearted, buoyant writing captures both singers and audience in its irresistible spell. We also hear straight hymns, such as Monk's beloved Abide with me, Samuel Wesley's O thou who camest from above, John Ireland's incomparably beautiful My song is love unknown, and Scholefield's The day thou gavest--all with uniquely appropriate, heavenly descants.
This choir--Canada's only all-professional church choir--should be certified as a national treasure for its sheer vocal-ensemble beauty and for its undaunted, unmitigated mastery of such a wide and widely demanding repertoire. You have to marvel at the exceptionally clear articulation, the near-obsessive sensitivity to clarity of line, the uncompromising attention to sonority and ensemble balance--but these are well-known characteristics of Canadian choirs that all-too-rarely impress themselves on the rest of the world. This is one of the year's best choral recordings... A winner."