> Gerald Finzi - In Terra Pax etc...[RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
In Terra Pax [15.30]
Dies Natalis [24.49]
For St Cecilia [17.36]
Amen from Lo, The Full Final Sacrifice [1.06]
Magnificat [10.12]
Romance for string orchestra [7.13]
Earth and Air and Rain [28.57]
Let Us Garlands Bring [16.00]
Philip Langridge (ten), LSO, LS Chorus/Hickox (Dies; Cecilia, 1978); Donald Sweeney (bs), Choir of Winchester Cathedral, Bournemouth SO/David Hill (Pax, 1974); New College Oxford/Edward Higginbottom (Amen, 2000); City of London Sinfonia/Hickox (Mag, 1978); ASMIF/Marriner (Romance, 1996); Benjamin Luxon/David Willison (Earth and Air, 1976); Bryn Terfel/Malcolm Martineau (Garlands, 1995)
rec. 1976-2000, ADD/DDD
DECCA The British Music Collection 468 807-2 [2CDs: 121.22]

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 preferred.

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!

Rob Barnett

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