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Finzi: Dies Natalis, Farewell To Arms, Two Sonnets / Hill, Gilchrist


Release Date: 04/29/2008 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570417   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gerald Finzi
Performer:  James Gilchrist
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Finzi’s melancholy, rapture and nobility articulated with fidelity.

The lynchpin here is Dies Natalis. It’s the work by which many discovered Finzi in the 1960s and 1970s courtesy of Wilfred Brown’s perfect recording. There the orchestra was the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer’s son Christopher Finzi. You can hear it on EMI Classics (CDM7 63372 and CDM 565588 2) keeping company with Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi.

Dies Natalis is quintessential Finzi, marrying limpid serenity of musical expression with an ecstatic-philosophical text. The theme of the poems spoke directly to Finzi: childhood as a transcendent religious experience. We can trace Wilfred Brown’s stylistic lineage back, by repute,
Read more to Eric Greene (are there any recordings?) and forwards to Ian Partridge who never recorded Dies Natalis and onwards now to James Gilchrist. Their ‘DNA’ is identifiable by intelligent and emotional engagement with the words, sharply delineated syllabic enunciation even at volume, wondrous breath control and steady tonal production. Not everyone likes these qualities; some may find the results too white and mannered. If you prefer other approaches there is no shortage of alternatives. For myself the Brown-Partridge school represents the ideal in Finzi. This disc rates very highly indeed although Gilchrist and Hill have not shaken my recommendation of Partridge and Handley (Lyrita) in the Two Sonnets and Farewell to Arms. This gently breathed Dies Natalis lovingly catches the Tallis hush and wonder of the piece. Taking one example: listen to “the corn was orient and immortal wheat” with gentle breath of the fragile violins as backdrop and played close to silence. The buoyancy and bounce of the playing is spot-on in the more exuberant passages and elsewhere the soloistic violin writing provides a silvery tracery.

Similarly compelling although more modest are the purely orchestral pieces from the warm murmur of the Nocturne to the caressingly shaped Prelude and the autumnal shiver of The Fall of the Leaf (what a title!).

I have a great affection for the two tenor and orchestra diptychs. Finding a home for them in concerts is a challenge but they subsist happily and bestow their blessings on record. Gilchrist is extremely good here but does not supplant Partridge who is softer-toned than Gilchrist when singing at pressurised volume. His identification with the words is never in doubt – listen to the way he tremulously shapes the words ‘I fondly ask’ in When I consider (the first Sonnet) but also how he rises to operatic climax at the end of How soon hath time. Also strongly and subtly done are the songs in Farewell to Arms. The words ‘rustic spade’ are fondly sung and a smile of recognition will come when Gilchrist sings ‘the ventriloquous drum’ – surely a Stanford souvenir. The unison string writing in Aria looks back with affection at Dies Natalis. The piercing ecstasy of transience returns to Finzi campground in the words “Oh time too swift / Oh swiftness never ceasing” with which the piece ends.

As for the liner notes we are in the safe and lucid hands of Andrew Burn. The sung words are not in the booklet but are available at a page on the Naxos website.

There is no direct competition for this particular combination of works on CD. You might consider mixing and matching various Lyritas (SRCD237 and SRCD239) but note that Lyrita never recorded Dies Natalis. Do not forget the Wilfred Brown on EMI.

What do I see in the far distance – is that a Finzi boxed set from Naxos?

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Dies natalis, Op. 8 by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  James Gilchrist (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925-1939; England 
2. Prelude for String Orchestra in F minor, Op. 25 by Gerald Finzi
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920s; England 
3. The Fall of the Leaf, Op. 20 by Gerald Finzi
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939-1941; England 
4. Sonnets (2), Op. 12 by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  James Gilchrist (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1928; England 
5. Nocturne, Op. 7 "New Year Music" by Gerald Finzi
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1946; England 
6. Farewell to Arms, Op. 9 by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  James Gilchrist (Tenor)
Conductor:  David Hill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 

Sound Samples

Dies natalis, Op. 8: I. Intrada
Dies natalis, Op. 8: II. Rhapsody
Dies natalis, Op. 8: III. The Rapture
Dies natalis, Op. 8: IV. Wonder
Dies natalis, Op. 8: V. The Salutation
Prelude in F minor, Op. 25
The Fall of the Leaf, Op. 20
2 Sonnets, Op. 12: No. 1. When I consider
2 Sonnets, Op. 12: No. 2. How soon hath time
New Year Music, Op. 7
Farewell to Arms, Op. 9: I. Introduction
Farewell to Arms, Op. 9: II. Aria: His golden locks

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