I think of Finzi’s Dies Natalis
my reference version
is Wilfred Brown’s fine recording with the composer’s son
conducting. But this recording is getting on a bit now
and it is natural that people might want one recorded more
recently. Now two have appeared almost simultaneously.
Spence’s recording with the Scottish Ensemble has just
appeared on the Wigmore Hall Live label and this disc has
appeared from Naxos.
the label suggests, the Wigmore Hall Live recording is
a transcription of a concert given by Spence and the Scottish
Ensemble. It couples the Finzi work with Walton’s Sonata
for Strings and Finzi’s Romance, Op. 11, whereas Gilchrist
and Hill give us a complete recital of works by Finzi.
They have already issued a disc containing For St. Cecilia
on Naxos (see
) so this disc is starting to look like the second
in a series.
seems to have taken considerable time completing works. Dies
itself had a gestation period of nearly twenty
years. Sometimes works never materialised; this is the
case with his orchestral triptych The Bud, The Blossom
and The Berry,
which was to be on the subject
of the seasons. The Bud
movement eventually became
the Prelude for String Orchestra
passed through piano-duet form en-route. Similarly the Berry
was turned into a piano duet and about a third of it was
orchestrated. This orchestration was completed after Finzi’s
death by his friend and musical executor Howard Ferguson
and then became The Fall of the Leaf
these works started out in the 1920s and in 1928 Finzi
also completed his Two Sonnets
, setting John
Milton. After the premiere, where the solo part was sung
by Steuart Wilson, Finzi was taken to task for setting
words which defied setting. He replied robustly, but I
can see the critic’s point of view; there is something
so extremely wordy about the Milton. Luckily Gilchrist’s
mellifluous tone and Finzi’s lovely music go a long way
towards making things acceptable. Sorry if I sound less
than enthusiastic, but one thing that I found on repeated
listening was how Finzi seemed to like setting wordy 17th
divines, rather than more succinct poets.
(New Year’s Music
) also dates from the 1920s but was revised
in the 1940s. It was inspired by Charles Lamb’s New
essay and Robert Bridges’ poem Noel:
Christmas Eve 1913
. The mood reflects Lamb’s sober
; Hill and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
capture this spirit of quiet melancholy rather well, with
the contrasting livelier mood in the middle section.
century poets appear in Farewell
. Initially Finzi set a sonnet from George
but later on found that Ralph
Knevet’s poem The helmet now
shared imagery with
it and this became the Introduction
. The piece is
notable for the beautifully expressive and fluid recitative
which Finzi created, and the ever-present mood of melancholy
arising from the knowledge of the brevity of life.
the major work on this disc is Dies Natalis
you will be wondering why I’ve not yet mentioned the performance
yet. In many ways Gilchrist, Hill and the Bournemouth orchestra
provide a fine performance. Hill has the feel of this music,
the performance is admirably fluid and flows beautifully.
In concert Gilchrist has a lovely lyric voice and would
seem an ideal interpreter, but something seems to have
his review of their previous disc, John Steane complained
about the way Gilchrist’s voice was too closely recorded.
I wondered whether something similar had happened here.
Generally the balance with the orchestra is fine but when
Gilchrist’s voice goes under pressure at the top we sense
a loss of the feeling for the line and a widening of vibrato,
a general feeling of stress.
is a shame because there are many things that are deeply
likeable about these performances. Many people will find
Gilchrist entirely admirable but I would urge you to find
a way to listen before you buy. If you already have a good
account of Dies Natalis
then I would urge you to
try this disc because the additional items are well worth
the listen. There is far more in Finzi than the two or
three works which get recorded regularly.
see also reviews by Rob
Barnett and Michael Cookson
and Farewell to Arms: Lyrita SRCD237
of the Leaf and Prelude: Lyrita SRCD239
Dies Natalis (Langridge): Decca
Dies Natalis (Langridge): Decca
British Music 4688072