Finzi: Dies natalis; Two Sonnets for Tenor and Orchestra; Nocturne; The Fall of the Leaf (compl. Ferguson); Farewell to Arms; Prelude for String Orchestra

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Finzi
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Finzi
WORKS: Dies natalis; Two Sonnets for Tenor and Orchestra; Nocturne; The Fall of the Leaf (compl. Ferguson); Farewell to Arms; Prelude for String Orchestra

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PERFORMER: James Gilchrist (tenor);
Bournemouth SO/David Hill

CATALOGUE NO: 8.570417

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Dies natalis is both Finzi’s most musically perfect and most moving achievement. The poems by the 17th‑century Anglican cleric Thomas Traherne are a touching yet also refreshingly unsentimental attempt to recreate the impressions of a child new to the world. As so often, Finzi’s word-setting is wonderful – a gift to any singer with a feeling for words as well as notes. James Gilchrist plainly enjoys both aspects of this work. His phrasing is typically musical and he points key syllables with great care. It can be captivating, though some of Gilchrist’s elongated vowels won’t please everyone. By a small margin I prefer Toby Spence in the recent Wigmore Hall Live recording, but that isn’t so warmly recorded, nor is the playing of the Scottish Ensemble as gorgeous as that of the Bournemouth Symphony strings. Ultimately, the best contender remains John Mark Ainsley on Hyperion, even if he doesn’t always match Spence’s intensity. But if this programme appeals Gilchrist and the Bournemouth Symphony have plenty to offer in the other items, especially in the posthumously completed orchestral The Fall of the Leaf, and in the Two Sonnets, even if one suspects that the better-known Milton poems in the latter didn’t kindle Finzi’s imagination quite as effectively as Traherne. Stephen Johnson