William Ferris Chorale

Toward the Unknown Region

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Although the packaging does not clearly identify it as such, this is a retrospective of the work of Chicago's William Ferris Chorale, and also a tribute to its late conductor -- the disc includes a recording from the rehearsal of Verdi's Requiem mass during which Ferris dropped dead of a massive heart attack on the podium. He is then ushered away to the glorious strains of Vaughan Williams' Toward the Unknown Region. The recordings, all live except for the Verdi, date back as far as 1975 and as far forward as 2006 -- Ferris' creation has survived his death. The group stands apart from other full-time American choirs in its devotion to contemporary music that is accessible yet never sentimental. This disc contains a good sample of its sacred repertory. A vigorous Gloria by Ferris himself opens the program, and a standout among works by much more famous composers is the Gloria from the Messe solennelle of Naji Hakim, a Lebanese-born, French-trained organist and composer who from the sound of it spent some of his off hours in Paris jazz clubs. The work fits the choir's talents beautifully, demanding precision and power coupled to a relaxed, communicative spirit. Quieter numbers are sung with pitch precision any other American choir might well envy. An excellent introduction to the work of an often overlooked American chorus.

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