51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2008
Naxos are doing an excellent job at working their way through the music of Gerald Finzi (1901 - 1956). They are pairing his larger scale better known works with smaller less known ones. This is making for an enjoyable series of CDs.
No composer sounds more traditionally English than Finzi. He builds on the influences of Stanford, Elgar and Vaughan Williams; but he adds a nostalgia that is all his own. His music is the music of the end of things, of autumn, of the evening of the day, of the evening of life. These things are givens. The trick of a good performance of his work is to express the light between the shadows, bring out the contrasts and make the music really live and sing.
The CD begins with the main work: Dies Natalis. This is often regarded as Finzi's masterpiece. Its five movements last around 26 minutes here. It is setting of texts from Thomas Traherne's `Three Centuries of Meditation' which describes the world as perceived by a child. I saw it brought rapturously alive by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2004. I have also heard it allowed to rest too comfortably in the shadows on a Decca CD conducted by Richard Hickox. I bought this new version in hope that Conductor David Hill, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Tenor James Gilchrist would do it justice, and I am mighty pleased with what I hear.
This performance sounds fresh, new born, and wide awake. What the conductor, orchestra and tenor have brought to it is tenderness. They have not brought it to life by upping the pace. In fact the first sung movement Rhapsody is a minute longer that in the Hickox recording. But everything is handled just right. Tenor David Glichrist is on excellent form, but then so is the orchestra. This is a triumph.
It is followed by two shorter orchestra works. The `Prelude for String Orchestra`, and `The Fall of the Leaf`. I can see why Finzi's lesser works disappeared from public hearing. Each is lovely in itself, but they are rather like each other. Finzi's musical voice is distinctive, but many of his individual works are not.
Finzi's setting of John Milton's poetry - `Two Sonnets for Orchestra' starts and my interest is wakened again. This composer's natural expression is song, he knows just how to express the sentiments of the texts he chooses. Without words to express, or as in his Clarinet Concerto, an particular instrument`s voice to play with, his works sound - well - they sound rather like the tracks of the songs of a great pop group with the vocals removed. There is a sense that something important is missing.
Nocturne (New Year Music), another orchestra piece begins - and yes it is very pleasant, if it were the only work of its kind on the disc I would rave about it - I mean - it brims full of lovely moments, but I listen for anything distinctive here- and I do not find it.
The disc ends with the two poetry settings of `Farewell to Arms`, here Finzi's autumnal voice is fully expressed: gently pulsing bass notes reminding us that time's march brings all things to an end. It is a satisfying end to the CD.
This CD shows both the strengths and limitations of Finzi as a composer. The performance of Dies Natalis alone is reason enough to buy it. The limitations of the purely orchestral works had me thinking of giving the disc four stars, but that would be a penny pinching kind of attitude. The brilliance of the performances of the voice and orchestra works here demand a five star verdict.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2012
Tenor James Gilchrist, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and conductor David Hill follow up their Naxos recording of Gerald Finzi's Intimations of Immortality with this fine recoding of Finzi's Dies Natalis. The first thing to say is that is a quality digital recording with Naxos fine presentation hallmark. It that sound like faint praise it is not meant to.
It is also a fairly leisurely recording with the first movement `Intrada' almost 1.30 minutes slower than some alternative recordings. The slowness does sometimes have a strange affect on the words with unnatural emphasise and Finzi's word painting, which is known for its natural speech patterns with the bar lines almost irrelevant, broken up in this recoding.
This recording was made in 2007 and as I comparison I returned to an EMI recording made in 1963 with Wilfred Brown, the English Chamber and conductor Christopher Finzi. This earlier recording is obviously not as clean being digitally remastered. Additional Wilfred Brown's singing can appear mannered at first hearing, however in all other respects include his vocal timbre, the orchestral playing and particularly the speeds taken by Christopher Finzi, the 1963 version is my preferred recording with Finzi's natural word painting far more successful at tempo.
This is an attractive new recording and Naxos must be congratulated for continuing to champion the work of Gerald Finzi. Some will prefer a modern recording with one of Britain's finest singers and the recording will stay in my CD Library, but for the reasons stated above I will return to Wilfred Brown's EMI recording more often.
For some the additional tracks that make up the recording will affect the choice of recording. This new Naxos recording includes Two Sonnets for Tenor and Orchestra and Farewell to Arms as well as a some orchestral gems.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Dies natalis - the day of birth. Finzi has a tremendously fresh view of the world as a child is born. There is a delight in living that is ecstatically expressed. It is a seraphic vision. All the sound springs out of the life of the words. The poetry is enriched and coloured. Music partners literature in a beautiful observation. There is a tenderness in the expression and pure vitality as the ear is linked to the eye in lovely imagery. The performers all do well. I also like a lot of the other works on this album. However there is a special spot in my heart for the Farewell to Arms that finishes this treasury. To slightly enrich the experience I turn up the bass to appreciate the plucked lower strings in the peace of the final moments. English pastoral bliss with a hint of Bach (perhaps the Sleeper's Awake Cantata).