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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Dies natalis cantata for tenor and strings, Op. 8 (mid-1920s, 1938-39) [26:16]
Prelude for string orchestra, Op. 25 (1929) [4:35]
The Fall of the Leaf (Elegy) for orchestra (1929, rev. 1940-42), Op. 20 (comp. Howard Ferguson) [9:34]
Two Sonnets for tenor and orchestra (1928) (I. When I consider [4:46]; II. How soon hath Time [2:51])
Nocturne (New Year Music) for orchestra (1928, rev. 1940s), Op. 7 [9:39]
Farewell to Arms introduction and aria for tenor and small orchestra (1926-8, 1940s), Op. 9: (I. Introduction [3:57]; II. Aria [5:05])
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill
rec. 5-6 June 2007, The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, England. DDD
Recording made possible by the Finzi Trust
NAXOS 8.570417 [66:40]


Experience Classicsonline

The Naxos label are sterling advocates of the music of Gerard Finzi with several wonderful releases in their catalogues notably: the Cello Concerto; Eclogue for piano and orchestra and Grand Fantasia and Fugue for piano on 8.555766; Song Cycles Earth and Air and Rain; To a Poet and By Footpath and Stile on 8.557963; Clarinet Concerto; Five Bagatelles; Three Soliloquies and Romance on 8.553566; Intimations of Immortality and For Saint Cecilia on 8.557863; Song Cycles I said to love; Let us Garlands Bring and Before and After Summer on 8.557644; Choral Music Lo, the full, Final Sacrifice etc. on 8.555792. 

Once again Naxos look to Finzi with this new release. These works are written essentially in the composer’s characteristic pastoral idiom. 

In terms of output the London-born Finzi was not prolific but I believe his scores display a consistently fastidious, high quality craftsmanship and a memorable quality; a splendid blend of attributes not always present in the works of his contemporaries.

Finzi had an unbridled and enduring passion for literature, especially seventeenth century English poetry. At his death he left a stunning collection that contained over three thousand books now stored at the Finzi Book Room at Reading University. The thoughtful Finzi excelled as a particularly effective and sensitive setter of texts of his favourite poets and a large proportion of his scores were written for the voice. Finzi certainly made a major contribution to twentieth-century English song that has endured with considerable fondness both in the recording studio and in the recital hall. As outstanding as Finzi was as a song setter I cannot overlook the extraordinary contribution in the genre made by many of his English born contemporaries namely: Gurney, Vaughan Williams, Warlock, Quilter, Ireland, Howells, Holst, Butterworth and Britten. 

The dignified Dies natalis, a cantata for high voice and strings was composed in between 1925 and 1939. Designed in five sections, Finzi sets texts from Centuries of Meditation by the seventeenth century cleric and poet Thomas Traherne. The intended premiere of the score was the 1939 Three Choirs Festival at Hereford but that had to be aborted owing to the outbreak of war. Belatedly the world premiere was given in January 1940 at London’s Wigmore Hall. Elsie Suddaby sang the soprano part with the Maurice Miles String Orchestra conducted by Maurice Miles. 

The prevailing pastoral quality of Dies natalis is asserted through pages of seductively feather-like, flowing tones meshed with strains of reflective yearning. Tenor James Gilchrist is a generally assured soloist. His diction is impressive as is his ability to convincingly display a range of emotions. I love the way his voice can easily soar up to the heavens. However, when under pressure as in The Rapture movement his tone rather loses its attractiveness and his vibrato becomes more conspicuous.

With regard to alternative versions of Dies natalis I strongly advocate the impeccable and highly moving, now ‘classic’ 1963 Abbey Road, recording from tenor Wilfred Brown and the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of the composer’s son Christopher ‘Kiffer’ Finzi on EMI Classics 5 65588 2. 

The Prelude for string orchestra, Op. 25 was completed in 1929 but Finzi had devised it a few years earlier as part of an unfinished chamber symphony. The short Prelude has vigorous forward momentum that develops in tension to a powerful climax. Finzi composed his orchestral work The Fall of the Leaf (Elegy), Op. 20 over a number of years from the 1920s and revised the score in 1940-42. It was composer Howard Ferguson who completed the orchestration of the score. The Nocturne was composed in 1928 undergoing revision in the 1940s. Finzi stated that he had been inspired by two literary works: Charles Lamb’s New Year’s Eve essay from his Essays of Elia and Robert Bridges’ poem Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913.

David Hill and the Bournemouth strings convey soothing tenderness and beauty in their playing of the Prelude; Fall of the Leaf and Nocturne. Throughout all three scores one is aware of an underlying sense of grief and yearning. It is as if Finzi, who had experienced the deaths of several family members, intended the scores to serve as musical tributes to close friends who had died. 

Composed in 1928 the Two Sonnets for tenor and small orchestra are settings of texts by the eminent seventeenth century poet John Milton. The first sonnet When I consider develops to a powerful climax and is impressive for Gilchrist’s strongly felt contribution of tender and nostalgic longing. Also impressive is the tenor’s enthusiastic and moving performance of the second sonnet How soon hath Time. 

Finzi composed his Farewell to Arms: introduction and aria for tenor and small orchestra (or strings) in 1926-8. He subsequently revised the score in the 1940s. The seventeenth century Ralph Knevet provides the text for the Introduction and sixteenth century George Peele the text for the Aria. Initially the singing in the Introduction has a sombre character. Bordering on the sinister, the music gives way to a characteristic pastoral quality; evocative of Finzi’s adored English countryside. The Aria inhabits a similar mood to the Introduction carrying an even greater weight of aching tenderness. 

Recorded at the Lighthouse Concert Hall in Poole the Naxos engineers have provided admirable sonics. The accompanying booklet contains an informative essay by Andrew Burn. Unfortunately and annoyingly the booklet does not include the texts which can be found on the Naxos site.

Pleasingly performed and well recorded this Naxos release makes a worthwhile addition to Finzi’s discography. 

Michael Cookson

see also Review by Rob Barnett





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