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Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973)
The Trees So High – Symphonic Ballad in A minor (1931) [34:07]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Intimations of Immortality. Ode for tenor, chorus and orchestra (1950) [43:12]
Thomas Allen (baritone)/Guildford Philharmonic Choir/Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Hadley)
Ian Partridge (tenor)/Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir/Vernon Handley (Finzi)
rec. 1979 (Hadley) and 1975 (Finzi)
LYRITA SRCD.238 [77:19]


It was Lionel Hill, a friend of Moeran and Albert Sammons’s son-in-law, who sent me a tape of Patrick Hadley’s The Trees So High and told me to listen. He was right. He added a symphony by Tubin to the tape and told me to lend an ear to that as well. Right again. So it’s to him that I owe my admiration for both these composers, one that shows no sign of slackening; in fact it gets stronger.

He sent me the Lyrita of course as there was none other in the catalogue. Now we have the Chandos rival on 9181 coupled with Sainton’s The Island – the same Sainton who had such a disastrous 1930 stint in Sammons’s old quartet, the London. Hadley wrote that his was a work of “some thirty minutes’ length” though there seems to be a consensus, on disc at least, that thirty-four is the preferred timing. I wonder how long Boult would have taken; slightly tighter I suspect. Auditors from critic Frank Howes (“equally beautiful in its larger outlines as in the smaller detail”) to fellow composer Armstrong Gibbs all loved it. And it is a ravishing work, one tinged of course with tragedy and loss; one would have thought Hadley would have preferred a female soloist but he was insistent on the point that it must be a baritone.

The differences between Handley on Lyrita and Bamert on Chandos are fairly negligible in respect of timings. Handley is a fraction quicker in the instrumental movements and slightly slower in the finale but that in itself is really of no account. The more immediate sound, School of ’79, favours the Lyrita over the slightly more cushioned Chandos. Handley also brings just a touch more spontaneity and affecting intimacy to the string writing. Perhaps it will come down to the singers – Tom Allen for Handley and David Wilson-Johnson for Bamert. The former’s tone is magnificently centred, the interpretation having a stoic reserve. Wilson-Johnson is a fine musician but his tone isn’t as centred as Allen’s – his stance is one of a greater mourning from the off as well. It doesn’t quite gather weight.

For me the Finzi will always be Ian Partridge’s work. I’ve reviewed both the John Mark Ainsley/Matthew Best Hyperion CDA66876 and the much more recent Gilchrist/Bournemouth/Hill on Naxos 8.557863, the former in the context of the latter, but there’s no question in my mind that the restoration of this 1975 recording is an answer to a prayer. To hear Partridge sing his way around the thickets of textual and technical difficulties is to appreciate, once again, how singer and song can be so closely aligned as to be inseparable. Everything Partridge does illuminates the text without over-balancing it. There are no exaggerations, simply as complete a mastery as I think one could find in this repertoire of the needs of projection and internalisation. This is simply masterful all round, from tenor and conductor to orchestra and not least recording.

The Lyrita Finzi was issued alone on LP. Now it has an appropriate companion. The Hadley was coupled with One Morning in Spring, conducted by Boult. Both these recordings are foundation stones of a British collection. Don’t waste a second worrying about duplication – what’s £13.50 against eternity?

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett February RECORDING OF THE MONTH




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