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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Intimations of Immortality op. 29 (1949-50) [38:58]
For Saint Cecilia op. 30 (1947) [16:37]
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus/Greg Beardsell
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill
rec. The Concert Hall, The Lighthouse, Poole, 4-5 June 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557863 [55:35]

One of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever attended – not necessarily best but most enjoyable – was given many years ago in a local church and consisted of Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality and Delius’s Violin Concerto played by Manoug Parikian. I suppose it was an indication of my enthusiasms at the time that Ian Partidge’s LP recording has obliterated all recollection of the tenor soloist (I do hope it wasn’t Partridge) in the Finzi but that Parikian’s splendid playing in the Delius has remained a warm memory. Must look up the programme if it’s still around.
This new Gilchrist/Hill recording is that much quicker (over three minutes) than a current rival with John Mark Ainsley and Matthew Best on Hyperion  – the Partridge/Handley is in limbo land or Lotus Land or wherever it is that LP recordings go to stagnate and die – and its tauter compression is a pleasurable feature of the new recording. I’ve not heard the Langridge/Hickox on EMI which is coupled with Philip Fowke’s performance of the wonderful Grand Fantasia and Toccata.
But greater tension and speed are not everything; inflexion, subtlety of word deployment, vowel shading and crispness of consonants count for a huge amount and especially so in the mammoth responsibility in setting Wordsworth. The differences between Ainsley and Gilchrist are considerable. Ainsley has a much more focused, centred voice; it’s harder, less inclined to soft edges. Gilchrist is more consistent with his cathedral background, more reflective, softer and more malleable, more fragile and introspective. Ainsley’s is a public persona in this work, more declamatory, Gilchrist more withdrawn.
This manifests itself in a number of ways, some positive, and some negative. Gilchrist strains sometimes going up, where the voice can spread, and where a relative uncertainty of pitch comes into play. He colours vowels attractively if inconsistently and his quick throbbing vibrato is accompanied by a lack of optimum sustenance at the top of the register and lack of chest heft lower down. But hear what he does with the “eternal silence” section (track 11) where Gilchrist bleaches his tone white. Ainsley is good here as well but far less touching. Or his head voice in track 13’s And O, ye fountains where he attains a touching grace of expression. Demerits also include some strange colourings, odd things such as the way he deals with the “delight” in track 3 (“The Moon doth with delight”) and elsewhere, where his response is rather hampered technically.
The orchestra plays well with some very expressive solos in the Introduction. The chorus is rather blurry however – which may be an acoustical problem or a balance one, or both – and its entries are occasionally mushy and indistinct. I found certain passages, such as the glorious and unforgettable Waters on a starry night, sounded chorally unspontaneous and over-prepared, which limited its mystery and awe-struck immediacy somewhat.
I’d rate this performance well enough but there are rather too many little problems that tend to drag it down a touch, for me at least.
Coupled with it is the fanfare efflorescence and sensitive introspection of the much less well known and less often performed For St Cecilia. The choral and orchestral forces certainly catch the Parry-burnished nobility and masculine Englishness of the final section, Wherefore we bid with impressive sonority – they seem to be a touch better balanced here as well. It’s a stirring, chest swelling interpretation, with crisp brass and alert percussion to the fore. Gilchrist’s honesty and clarity of diction are most attractive features of this performance.
Jonathan Woolf 

see also review by Rob Barnett


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