After two decades of mortifying neglect Finzi's music has risen to the heights and shows no sign of decline. Performances and recordings are now almost commonplace. Finzi's ineffable enchantment at word setting and musicality generally has won an enduring place in the annals of twentieth century pastoral-mystical-ecstatic British music.
No other company has offered what amounts to a Finzi Edition so there is no direct competition although outright enthusiasts will want to hear CDs from Lyrita, Hyperion and EMI. Naxos discs are now priced around £6 so assembling these CDs individually would set you back close to £50.00 As it is this set which gathers eight individually packaged discs into a light card sleeve in shrink-wrap and unassumingly calls it "A Finzi Anthology" will set you back about £24.00.
The recordings date from 1995 to 2008 and are good interpretations and recordings. You get a large number of Finzi works - in fact everything likely to be on your want-list - and all the most outstanding pieces including Dies Natalis, Intimations, the Clarinet Concerto and the Cello Concerto. The cello is more reticently - even more naturally placed - than it is in the Lyrita recording by Yo-Yo Ma. David Hill who presides over the vocal-orchestral works has a sensitive gift for the major vocal Finzi and has also carried this into the concert hall but everything here is well done.
All the Hardy songs are there and much else of value. What is 'missing'? Well, there's no full suite from Loves Labours Lost or the orchestration of the Oboe Interlude. You will look in vain for the orchestral versions of Lo the Full Final Sacrifice, the Magnificat and Let Us Garlands Bring. There are a few other gaps and there's no sign of the chamber music nor is there any version of In Terra Pax. To more than counterbalance what is not there you get to hear some of the rarer pieces including Lawrence Ashmore's delightful orchestration of the clarinet Bagatelles and the early, if not wholly remarkable, Hardy song-cycle with string quartet, By Footpath and Style.
Finzi wrote comparatively little but is held in such outright affection that arrangements have sprung up. More urgently needed - if 'urgent' is the word - is the orchestration in true Finzian style of his Thomas Hardy songs. By and large, the ones included on the Chandos disc of the Violin Concerto did not all work and some seemed unsympathetic. The songs are one thing but it would also be interesting to hear Finzi's planned orchestral triptych The Bud, The Blossom and The Berry which, movement for movement, exists in separately recorded entities.
The liner-notes are good but in some cases you will have to go to the Naxos website for the sung words.
At one time a collection like this from Naxos would have been unthinkable. No longer. Who knows, perhaps Lyrita will follow suit. This well documented and performed set will be the perfect answer for Finzi enthusiasts. Rob Barnett
Contents list and links to individual reviews CD 1 8.553566
Clarinet Concerto and other orchestral works
Robert Plane (clarinet), Northern Sinfonia/Howard Griffiths CD 2 8.555766
Cello Concerto, Eclogue, Grand Fantasia and Toccata
Tim Hugh (cello), Peter Donohoe (piano), Northern Sinfonia/Howard Griffiths CD 3 8.555792 Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice and other choral works
Choir of St John’s College Cambridge/Christopher Robinson CD 4 8.557644 I Said to Love and other songs
Roderick Williams (baritone)/Iain Burnside (piano) CD 5 8.557863 Intimations of Immortality, For St Cecilia
James Gilchrist (tenor), Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/David Hill CD 6 8.557963 Earth and Air and Rain and other songs
Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano), Sacconi Quartet CD 7 8.570414 A Young Man’s Exhortation and other songs
John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Iain Burnside (piano) CD 8 8.570417 Dies natalis and other works
James Gilchrist (tenor), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill