The Willow Consort: One Thing Have I Desired

A student-run chamber choir based at the University of York, Willow Consort, directed by Danny Purtell, performed their third concert since 2014. We review ‘One Thing Have I Desired,’ hosted in a gorgeous, intimate setting in the centre of York – St Wilfrid’s Church.

The choir’s emotional engagement was evident from the start – the intimate ending of the Sandstrom’s ‘Four Songs of Love’ was a perfect example of this; the choir had great discipline in this moment, and their voices were quiet but strong creating a moment full of intensity. Some pieces in this concert were performed by a selection of singers from within the choir, which added a lovely contrast and allowed the audience to hear the individuality of some voices. ‘Sicut Lilium Inter Spinas’ was one of those pieces and balance was notably well controlled and some beautiful alto lines soaring through which was refreshing to the ears.

The line ‘smiling in reply’ was a surprising moment and that was executed brilliantly

Although not one of my favourite pieces of music, Gorecki’s ‘Totus Tuus’ was given quite an engaging performance which had some wonderful dynamically contrasting moments, led by Danny Purtell’s clear and vibrant conducting, and the choir tackled the harmony well, with just a few discrepancies. However, although the very repetitive final passage started very intensely, the energy was difficult to maintain and it depleted a little towards the end.

‘Love Bade Me Welcome,’ commissioned by the choir was pleasant but whilst the luscious harmonies did compliment the overall style of the concert, the piece was a little bland. There were however, some very pleasing moments in Drakett’s writing; the line ‘smiling in reply’ was a surprising moment and that was executed brilliantly. Similarly the conversational move between the soprano soloist and the choir were very enjoyable; a well-crafted moment in terms of both composition and performance; more development of this texturally contrasting passage would be warmly welcomed.

Some minor timing issues unfortunately disturbed the fluidity, by which I mean scattered entries or uncoordinated endings; this was quite noticeable at times in Howells’ ‘One Thing Have I desired.’ There was an obvious insecure passage, although the choir recovered well from this and the quality of sound returned quite quickly. Despite some issues in this piece, the more unusual harmonic movement was executed well and the sound overall was strongly delivered.

This concert had a very rich sound world with a focus on flowing harmonies and swells in texture and dynamics

Whitacre’s ‘Hope, Faith, Life, Love’ is one of his more unusual works and I thoroughly enjoyed Willow Consort’s performance of it. The build up to the word ‘Joy’ was a beautiful passage with a real sense of growth and there was a clear drive in the following passages. The sense of emotion was strong and there was great precision in notes and rhythm. The sensual whispers of ‘love’ were perfectly balanced, an underlying thought peeking through.

This concert had a very rich sound world with a focus on flowing harmonies and swells in texture and dynamics. The repertoire ran together smoothly, with lots of variation but linked by passionate texts of love and the choir performed these luscious pieces beautifully. Despite some minor issues, the concert itself was certainly an enjoyable one which clearly put the choir’s talent on display.

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