Finzi, the romantic humanist, the clear-eyed singer of sadness,
of the ecstatic pastoral - snowy, moonlit or in dazzling light, is joyously
portrayed by this harvest from the Universal archives.
Finzi's standing in concert programmes, on air and
on disc has accelerated from almost nil since the early 1970s. Last
year (2001) was the centenary of his birth. Performances and CDs (including
this set) sprang up with welcome vigour.
The selection offers vocal riches with all but a single
work (Romance) among the eight featuring choral or solo singing.
Choices are dictated by what will sell (fair enough) and by what is
available in the Decca, Philips and DG catalogues. I can understand
that Bryn Terfel's Let Us Garlands Bring would have been an early
pick but what is less understood is why, in a set that could have had
a playing time of 155 or 160 minutes, more was not made of three early-mid
1980s LPs: two on Argo (both Hickox conducted) and the other (a capella
conducted by Garrett O'Brien) on a Decca collegiate label, L'Oiseau
Lyre. Compare this with the perfection and generosity of the Holst collection
where not a foot has been put wrong in selection even if the booklet
can be criticised.
Romance is fairly interpreted but there is more
vibrato in the string voices than is ideal for this composer. The passions
do however burn adroitly in the massed string tone (e.g. at 5.01). There
is much to enjoy in this version though if you really want this work
then Hickox (EMI), Griffiths (Naxos) and Boult (Lyrita LP) are to be
Benjamin Luxon is in stalwart and unwavering form with
poetic intelligence fully engaged. Try Waiting Both which strays
strongly into Pierrot Lunaire territory. Though also pliant of
tone he does not quite match the staunch John Carol Case on Lyrita LP.
He is however stronger than the counterpart singer on the Hyperion set.
David Willison (not 'Willinson', Decca - you made the same mistake on
the Butterworth disc in The British Music Collection series) accompanies
with the same quality of perception.
Terfel is oaken of voice, shows remarkable steadiness
and relishes the challenge of singing quietly. Word production is precise
without pedantry. He takes Come Away and Fear No More as
slowly as I can recall them being taken by anyone. Allowing for the
lightest Cambrian burr in his voice he recalls for me the voice of John
Carol Case the glory of which is barely hinted at in Lyrita's recording
of the orchestral version of Let Us Garlands Bring. He acts the
words - just listen to the colouration and inflection he uses for the
words: 'between the acres of the rye.'
Unaccountably we get only the Amen from Lo
The Full Final Sacrifice.
In Terra Pax is a magical work and this shines
through although the Lyrita LP recording from circa 1979 is to be preferred
if ever it emerges from the vinyl Room 101 that is the Lyrita archive.
The Winchester Cathedral Choir suffer in terms of enunciation and clarity
when compared with the Hickox's choir in For Saint Cecilia. Philip
Langridge was much better than I had recalled in Dies Natalis. His
vibrato is nothing like as bad as I remember; even so you should also
sample the purity of Wilfred Brown's voice (EMI Classics) while at the
same time hoping that one day someone will excavate off-air recordings
by Ian Partridge and Gerald English in their prime. For Saint Cecilia
is the only recording of the work and there is really no need for
any competition. Hickox, who started off as a choir conductor (remember
his superb Rubbra masses on an early 1970s RCA LP?), draws wonderful
unanimity from his choir. Listen to the relish with which the choir
sings "St Dunstan whose red tongs clipt Satan's powers." This is a superbly
celebratory work which deserves to be counted in the shatteringly brilliant
company of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast and Coronation Te Deum
and Finzi's own Intimations of Immortality.
Kenneth Chalmers, a fixture for most of this series,
gives a helpful and brief account of Finzi's life. English only.
While the Holst collection is one of the flagships
of the BMC series nothing is ever quite that straightforward. Unlike
the Holst collection, where none of the texts are included, this Finzi
'fest' diligently reproduces every single word. Well done!