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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Dies natalis (I. Intrada; II. Rhapsody; III. The Rapture; IV. Wonder; V. The Salutation) (1925-1939) [26:16]
Prelude for String Orchestra (1929) [4:36]
The Fall of the Leaf (Elegy) (compl. Howard Ferguson) (1929) [9:34]
Two Sonnets for Tenor and Orchestra (I. When I consider; II. How soon hath Time) (1928) [7:37]
Nocturne (New Year Music) (1928, rev. 1940s) [9:39]
Farewell to Arms (I. Introduction; II. Aria) (1926-8, 1940s) [9:01]
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill
rec. Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, 5-6 June 2007. DDD
Recording made possible by the Finzi Trust
NAXOS 8.570417 [66:40]
Experience Classicsonline


The lynchpin here is Dies Natalis. It’s the work by which many discovered Finzi in the 1960s and 1970s courtesy of Wilfred Brown’s perfect recording. There the orchestra was the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer’s son Christopher Finzi. You can hear it on EMI Classics (CDM7 63372 and CDM 565588 2) keeping company with Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi.
 
Dies Natalis is quintessential Finzi, marrying limpid serenity of musical expression with an ecstatic-philosophical text. The theme of the poems spoke directly to Finzi: childhood as a transcendent religious experience. We can trace Wilfred Brown’s stylistic lineage back, by repute, to Eric Greene (are there any recordings?) and forwards to Ian Partridge who never recorded Dies Natalis and onwards now to James Gilchrist. Their ‘DNA’ is identifiable by intelligent and emotional engagement with the words, sharply delineated syllabic enunciation even at volume, wondrous breath control and steady tonal production. Not everyone likes these qualities; some may find the results too white and mannered. If you prefer other approaches there is no shortage of alternatives. For myself the Brown-Partridge school represents the ideal in Finzi. This disc rates very highly indeed although Gilchrist and Hill have not shaken my recommendation of Partridge and Handley (Lyrita) in the Two Sonnets and Farewell to Arms. This gently breathed Dies Natalis lovingly catches the Tallis hush and wonder of the piece. Taking one example: listen to “the corn was orient and immortal wheat” with gentle breath of the fragile violins as backdrop and played close to silence. The buoyancy and bounce of the playing is spot-on in the more exuberant passages and elsewhere the soloistic violin writing provides a silvery tracery.
 
Similarly compelling although more modest are the purely orchestral pieces from the warm murmur of the Nocturne to the caressingly shaped Prelude and the autumnal shiver of The Fall of the Leaf (what a title!).
 
I have a great affection for the two tenor and orchestra diptychs. Finding a home for them in concerts is a challenge but they subsist happily and bestow their blessings on record. Gilchrist is extremely good here but does not supplant Partridge who is softer-toned than Gilchrist when singing at pressurised volume. His identification with the words is never in doubt – listen to the way he tremulously shapes the words ‘I fondly ask’ in When I consider (the first Sonnet) but also how he rises to operatic climax at the end of How soon hath time. Also strongly and subtly done are the songs in Farewell to Arms. The words ‘rustic spade’ are fondly sung and a smile of recognition will come when Gilchrist sings ‘the ventriloquous drum’ – surely a Stanford souvenir. The unison string writing in Aria looks back with affection at Dies Natalis. The piercing ecstasy of transience returns to Finzi campground in the words “Oh time too swift / Oh swiftness never ceasing” with which the piece ends.
 
As for the liner notes we are in the safe and lucid hands of Andrew Burn. The sung words are not in the booklet but are available at a page on the Naxos website.
 
There is no direct competition for this particular combination of works on CD. You might consider mixing and matching various Lyritas (SRCD237 and SRCD239) but note that Lyrita never recorded Dies Natalis. Do not forget the Wilfred Brown on EMI.
 
What do I see in the far distance – is that a Finzi boxed set from Naxos?
 
Rob Barnett

Finzi Discography by John France

Naxos Finzi series reviews on MusicWeb International
8.553566 Clarinet Concerto
8.555766 Cello Concerto
8.557644 I said to love
8.557863 Intimations of Immortality
8.557963 Earth and Air and Rain


 


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