Finzi: Intimations of Immortality; For St. Cecilia

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Finzi
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Finzi
WORKS: Intimations of Immortality; For St. Cecilia
PERFORMER: James Gilchrist (tenor); Bournemouth Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/David Hill
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557863
Gerald Finzi’s music here is full of inescapable echoes of the melodies and harmonies of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, the ceremonial pomp of Parry, the gleaming chords of Holst. And Finzi’s fast rhythmic vein often seems a genteel version of the ‘barbaric’ manner of his contemporary Walton, as if sherry were being served at Belshazzar’s feast. But he had a distinctive gift for setting English poetry sympathetically in eminently singable melodic lines and effective choral textures – which shines through the large-scale setting of Wordsworth’s ode Intimations of Immortality that occupied him for many years before its premiere in 1950.

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This new account boasts an eloquent soloist in James Gilchrist, fine orchestral playing, and choral singing which is accomplished if occasionally lacking in extremes of attack or intimacy. Compared to his only rival in the current catalogue, Matthew Best on Hyperion, David Hill keeps the music moving more purposefully, if sometimes at the expense of lyricism; and Naxos’s recording, while not ideally focused, does place all the performers in the same space, unlike Hyperion’s with its boxed-in tenor. However, it’s a pity that Richard Hickox’s earlier EMI recording isn’t in the reckoning: his Decca version with the LSO and Chorus of the 1947 ceremonial ode For St Cecilia, on a poem of Edmund Blunden, certainly wins out over Hill’s reading for pacing and choral impact. All told, though, Naxos’s bargain newcomer will surely win this likeable music many new friends. Anthony Burton