Review By David Denton, Naxos,April 2008
For too long the music of Gerald Finzi has been kept in England’s artistic backwater as the easier commercial attractions of Vaughan Williams and Elgar have been internationally exploited. He was a very private person, not helped by the fact that he studied composition privately and was never part of the competitive life of a music college. That tendency to introversion was broadened by the death of his mentor and so many friends in the First World War. He was to spend much of his life in the seclusion and peace of the countryside, never craving for the popularity coveted by other composers of his generation. In these surroundings he had many ideas but few that came to fruition, and those that did often took many years. The orchestral song cycle, Dies Natalis, was such a work, having been conceived in the 1920’s but remained unfinished until 1939. He was reluctant to use texts from fashionable sources, the words for the cycle coming from the 17th century writer Thomas Traherne. The result was a score of intense beauty that is a masterpiece of the English vocal repertoire, the use of a high voice and strings creating music that floats on air. Two of his unfinished works share the disc, the Prelude for Strings having started life as a projected first section of a triptych based on the seasons. The final movement became The Fall of the Leaf, but that largely remained in piano duet form on his death, the task of completing the orchestration falling to his friend, Howard Ferguson. When he did use a known poet, John Milton, for the Two Sonnets for Tenor and Orchestra, he was then taken to task for using words that could not be set to music. The short orchestral work, Nocturne (New Year Music), and a further score for tenor and orchestra, Farewell to Arms, complete the release. I don’t suppose we will ever have a more deeply felt recorded performance of Dies Natalis, the music and the tenor voice of James Gilchrist being as one. This is sublime music making, the Bournemouth Symphony strings playing with that innate Englishness Finzi requires. David Hill is the admirable conductor, and the disc is completed by a sound quality of great beauty.