It’s been a while since a recording devoted to Gerald Finzi’s shorter choral works has appeared, so this superb Hyperion is more than welcome.
These Trinity versions come with two bonuses: an exhilarating brass and organ adaptation of God is gone up, played with tremendous élan by Trinity Brass and Asher Oliver, and a new setting of the Nunc dimittis by David Bednall as a companion piece – and alternative to Holst’s – for Finzi’s standalone Magnificat. Many of Finzi’s mannerisms are grafted onto Bednall’s setting where homage and individual personality cohabit in rewarding fusion and prompt a warm response from Stephen Layton’s thirty-plus ensemble.
Finzi’s Magnificat (1952) was written for a choir in Massachusetts, and cost him some effort, yet the polished singing and finely integrated organ accompaniment smooth-away the angularities, and the hurriedly penned “Amen” (supposedly written in a taxi on the way to a post office) is beautifully rendered too.
Finzi’s modest but significant contribution to church music was, with few exceptions, the result of invitations to compose for various choirs, rather than a spontaneous expression of faith. Where inspiration arrives fitfully in the Magnificat it flows unstoppably in Lo, the full, final sacrifice, for Walter Hussey and Matthew’s Church, Northampton. Here Finzi’s heartfelt response to Richard Crashaw is matched unstintingly by the Trinity singers, lovingly shaped, Layton’s well-judged tempos never allowing indulgence.
Finzi’s sensitivity to the English language also finds outlet in his relatively early Seven poems of Robert Bridges, secular arrangements dating from the 1930s. Conservative they may be but there’s plenty an aspiring composer can learn from them, sung here with award-winning refinement; and there’s no lack of warmth in White-flowering days (Opus 37), given with an exultant lightness that perfectly captures Edmund Blunden’s nostalgia.
Equally outstanding are the three Opus 27 settings of Edward Taylor and Henry Vaughan, each revealing finely nuanced singing that variously underlines the respective fervour, ceremony and rapture. The jubilation in All this Night (William Austin) is also well caught.
I cannot imagine performances better than these. This excellently produced release comes with texts and a comprehensive booklet note.