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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Intimations of Immortality op. 29 (1949-50) [38:58] (Andante sostenuto [
4:40]; There was a time when meadow, grove and stream [2:56]; The Rainbow comes and goes [2:04]; Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song [4:43]; Ye blessed Creatures, 1 have heard the call [0:58]; Oh evil day! If I were sullen [2:14]; But there's a Tree, of many, one [1:51]; Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting [3:05]; Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own [1:52]; O joy! That in our embers [2:49]; But for those first affections [3:51]; Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song! [3:20]; And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves [4:40])
For Saint Cecilia op. 30 (1947) [16:37] (Delightful Goddess, in whose fashionings [2:19]; Changed is the age; mysterious, man's next star [3:18]; How came you, lady of fierce martyrdom [4:42]; How smilingly the saint among her friends [2:13]; Wherefore we bid you to the full consent [3:51])
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]


 

A very welcome addition to Naxos’s burgeoning collection of English music releases!

I was delighted to see James Gilchrist’s presence as soloist, as I have been deeply impressed by the live performances he has given in recent years of British works, and by his dedication to, and championing of, this wonderful music. 

In setting Wordsworth’s ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Years – a lament for the loss of the intuitive, almost spiritual, joys and visions of childhood – Finzi created one of the greatest British choral works of the twentieth century. Although started in the late 1930s, the work was not finished until 1950, when it was given its premiere at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival with Herbert Sumsion conducting.

From the very first note of the Naxos disc, the atmosphere is gripping, and full of a tense excitement. The BSO and BSC produce a lush and rich sound, and Gilchrist’s distinctively muscular yet smooth, warm and gorgeous tones, beautiful enunciation and well-controlled vibrato add to the extremely apt pervading sense of nostalgia.

The performance is taken at a good pace as a general rule – a little faster than the 1996 Hyperion recording - with John Mark Ainsley and the Corydon Orchestra and Singers conducted by Matthew Best, a worthy competitor - and has good rhythmic drive, as exemplified in Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song, which is nicely snappy. Gilchrist captures the wistfulness of the piece perfectly in But there's a Tree, of many, one and the glorious O joy! That in our embers is quite radiant. I love the playful joy with which Gilchrist sings the word “pleasures” in Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own – and in these moments of delight and happiness, Gilchrist and the BSO and BSC dance, and the music brims with a tremendous sense of joy and fun - more so than on the Hyperion disc.

On the whole, Gilchrist’s voice is softer and more effeminate, yet at the same time comes across as bolder and more confident, than John Mark Ainsley, although Ainsley is more vibrant and resonant, and stops only just short of too much vibrato to my ears. However, the Naxos disc is given a head start by a far nicer recording sound. The balance is much better on Naxos, and the - closer mike-d, it sounds - soloist more audible against the chorus and orchestra. In Oh evil day! If I were sullen, for example, John Mark Ainsley is nearly drowned out by the chorus. Yet the Hyperion recording is, if slightly less beautiful than the Naxos, more intense. Listen to Ye blessed Creatures, 1 have heard the call - it is more dramatic, sinister and harsher than the Naxos version - the harshness partly due to the recording - and, as such, is slightly more effective. Similarly, Ainsley’s But there's a Tree, of many, one is more harrowing – he takes it more slowly, and it is starker, wilder and full of a desperate melancholy. The climaxes on Hyperion are more ecstatic. Listen to the opening of Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!; not just faster in Hyperion, but more exultant too, whilst Naxos is more restrained. There is a more profound sense of stillness, calmness and translucent beauty in Hyperion’s And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves, which means a greater contrast when we get to the livelier “I love the brooks”... The ending of Intimations of Immortality is sublime in both recordings. 

The second work on the Naxos disc is For St Cecilia, which was commissioned for the 1947 St Cecilia’s Day Festival. The words are by the poet Edmund Blunden, Finzi’s contemporary. Finzi – a deeply literary man himself, and whose consummate craftsmanship shows itself at its best when setting words - corresponded with Blunden to refine the text to its current form. There is some stunning word and imagery painting in the portrayal of the saints, composers and instruments. The Hyperion disc includes Dies Natalis as an opener.

On the whole, this Naxos disc is one that I would recommend to both people looking for a recording of Intimations, and to those who already have the Hyperion recording. I couldn’t possibly choose between them for quality of soloist, chorus and orchestra – I prefer Gilchrist and Naxos for some movements, and Ainsley and Hyperion for others. A decision between the two would have to come purely down to recording – in which case Naxos wins hands down with its clear, warmer, more intimate sound and better balance.  One probably ought to mention here that Philip Langridge’s version on EMI with Hickox is another superlative recording, which I have omitted to discuss here for reasons of length – but would again be one that I can highly recommend. However, this Naxos disc is a very safe bet anyway, with lively and sensitive performances from choir and orchestra and lithe, characterful and astute singing from Gilchrist, who combines luscious beauty of tone with technical ability, emotional involvement and intuitive understanding and communication of both words and music.

Em Marshall

see also Reviews by Anne Ozorio, Jonathan Woolf and Rob Barnett


for reviews of other Naxos recordings of British composers, see the themed release page

 

 



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