Only very occasionally does a series of works come
together so incredibly well that it captures the mood of the record
buying public. The performers are undoubtedly in pristine form, the
director is in his prime, the recording and recording venue and studio
engineers are first class, the repertoire is top quality and relatively
unknown. Couple this with a forward-looking and respected record company
who are marvellous at marketing and add to this potent mix of ingredients,
that crucial ‘x’ factor. All this makes for a heady cocktail on this
fifth release in the Naxos series of English Choral Music with the St.
John’s College Choir, Cambridge under the direction of Christopher Robinson.
Following on from the previous releases of Britten,
Rubbra, Tavener and Howells in the series the St.John’s College Choir
and Christopher Robinson continue their outstanding success with breathtaking
performances of Finzi’s music which are equally distinguished. There
is a real sense of freshness and purpose as they communicate this wonderful
music to the listener who will surely for the most part be hearing these
works for the first time.
Renowned for writing in the English pastoral idiom,
Finzi is a most thoughtful and assured composer, in fact a real craftsman.
These works for unaccompanied choir or choir with organ accompaniment
are most lovely and Finzi displays a real talent for setting the words
so sensitively alongside really memorable musical ideas. On this recording
we have a relatively equal mixture of liturgical and secular texts,
in particular the ‘Seven Unaccompanied Part Songs’ to poems by Robert
Bridges, which Finzi treats with a balance of reverence and superb lyrical
It almost seems unfair to single out one piece, but
I feel that the real star on the disc is the Festival Anthem: ‘Lo,
the Full Final Sacrifice’ for choir and organ set to words by Robert
Crashaw. From the extended introduction for solo organ to the concluding
fifty second a cappella ‘Amen’ dramatism and radiance abound.
This is undoubtedly a winning release of marvellous
music magnificently sung. Magical music for a cold winter’s evening
and the perfect antidote to the excesses of the festive season. At super
budget price too, it really doesn’t get much better than this.