Thursday, June 8, 2017

Gerald Finzi - Dies natalis; Farewell to Arms; Two Sonnets (David Hill)


Composer: Gerald Finzi
  • (01-05) Dies natalis, Op. 8
  • (06) Prelude for String Orchestra, Op. 25
  • (07) The Fall of the Leaf (Elegy), Op. 20 (compl. Howard Ferguson)
  • (08-09) Two Sonnets for Tenor and Orchestra, Op. 12
  • (10) Nocturne (New Year Music), Op. 7
  • (11-12) Farewell to Arms, Op. 9

James Gilchrist, tenor
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
David Hill, conductor

Date: 2008
Label: Naxos



Faith is tested in an hour of ‘sober exaltation, apprehensive blessedness’

In liturgical terms, we have seen Finzi’s music (as represented here by Dies natalis) advance in our times from the status of Collect to Gospel. He has become a figure of musical faith, standing for what we would be hard-pressed to put into words; but, his music being ever more clearly present, happily we have no need to. And, without insistence, he stands strong.

Hard, then, to admit that during the course of this hour’s listening, I wished for something that was not quite continuous confirmation. These pieces are very much in the same mode of sober exaltation, apprehensive blessedness: I am trying to put into words (after all) what the music conveys of a face that looks into radiance but sees time and mortality out of the corner of his eye. It’s there in the orchestral pieces, the Prelude, Elegy and Nocturne, as surely as in the settings of Traherne, Milton and the remarkably co-joined poets of Farewell to Arms. There are six works here, and, in a sense, they are all one.

James Gilchrist’s singing is guided by a refined (yet passionate) sensibility, just right for Finzi, and his voice has substantial reserves of resonance and power (though some of the vowel sounds may seem to come to us as from another age). Personally, for Dies natalis I’m still wedded to the old recording by Wilfred Brown with Christopher Finzi conducting (EMI, 5/92R). But it’s possible that Gilchrist may have that in mind too: they sing within the same tradition.

-- John Steane, Gramophone

More reviews:


Gerald Finzi (14 July 1901 – 27 September 1956) was a British composer. He studied with Ernest Farrar, Edward Bairstow and Reginald Owen Morris. Finzi is best known as a choral composer, but also wrote in other genres. Large-scale compositions by Finzi include the cantata Dies natalis for solo voice and string orchestra, and his concertos for cello and clarinet. Thanks to both of his sons and the support of other enthusiasts, as well as the work of the Finzi Trust and the Finzi Friends, Finzi’s music enjoyed a great resurgence from the late 20th century onwards.


David Hill (born on 13 May 1957 in Carlisle, Cumberland, England) is an English conductor and organist. Renowned for his fine musicianship, David Hill is widely respected as both a choral and orchestral conductor. He is the the 9th Musical Director of The BBC Singers (since 2007), and Musical Director of The Bach Choir (since 1998). Hill was also Associate Guest conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He has made more than 80 recordings, including many award-winners, can be found on the for Decca/Argo, Hyperion, Naxos and Virgin Classics labels.


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