William Ferris

Corridors of Light: Music of William Ferris

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William Ferris (1937-2000) was a musician well-loved in the Chicago area. Best known for founding the William Ferris Chorale in 1971 with John Vorrasi, he was also a prolific composer with over 500 works to his credit. This disc includes four of his pieces that include orchestra: one featuring baritone, oboe, and chorus; one with tenor solo; one with chorus; and one for orchestra alone. The most impressive is the solo cantata, Ed È Subito Sera, a setting of four texts by Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo, composed in 1965. Written in a warmly Italianate post-Romantic idiom, it has a captivating lyric sweep. The text setting is effective, with strong melodic lines and clearly differentiated movements. Vorrasi has a clarion, expressive tenor, and he brings an impassioned intensity to the music. He is capably accompanied by the Chicago String Ensemble, led by Alan Heatherington. Ferris composed Corridors of Light, a setting of Stephen Spender's poem "The Truly Great" for John Shirley-Quirk and his wife, oboist Sara Watkins, who perform it here with the composer leading his Chorale and the Composer Festival Orchestra. Shirley-Quirk is in fine form, singing with power and commitment. A 20-minute through-composed piece, Corridors of Light doesn't have the distinctiveness of the earlier work. It is lyrical, but in a meandering way that doesn't provide much sense of direction or purpose. The same could be said, but even more emphatically, about Ferris' Gloria, which lacks strong motivic material or a coherent form. The brief Bristol Hills: A Reflection for String Orchestra is not particularly distinguished, but it's well played by the London Symphony Strings, led by Arnie Roth. The recordings were made in various venues, but Cedille's sound is clean and balanced.

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