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Finzi - Choral Works

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What a beautifully crafted disc this is – not just in its quality (and it really is Trinity at their absolute best) but also in its shape and programming. An all-Finzi recital sounds straightforward enough; but in opening with the Magnificat and closing with the monumental anthem Lo, the full, final sacrifice, Stephen Layton transforms it from a collage into a cycle. We move from birth to death, Incarnation to Crucifixion, from the anticipation of the Annunciation to the fulfilment of the Eucharist.

The composer’s secular music is also carefully folded into this sacred narrative. The fragility and brush-away slightness of Finzi’s Robert Bridges settings and the part-song ‘White-flowering days’ come into their own here – portraits of a world already receding into the distance, the Calvary Cross rising up in the foreground.

He may have given us concertos and anthems, cantatas and chamber music but Finzi is, above all, a song composer. Trinity and Layton never let you forget that in performances in which 30 voices sing as one, where collective statements become private, lyric utterances. There’s a lightness to the unisons (a recurring Finzi gesture) and an organic, blossoming quality to the counterpoint that gives these choral works a first-person immediacy. Which makes it all the more startling when the congregation does burst in, reminding us where we are.

You have to hear the filmy, rhapsodic lightness of the Henry Vaughan setting Welcome sweet and sacred feast to really startle at the arresting opening of God is gone up (where the choir are joined by Trinity Brass, led by no less than David Blackadder on trumpet) – a trick Layton plays again by cutting from the brilliance of the lithe, ecstatic Wherefore tonight so full of care into the sober, muttered darkness of Lo, the full, final sacrifice.

Finzi’s Magnificat famously lacks either a Gloria or an answering Nunc dimittis. Rather than use Holst’s familiar setting of the latter, Layton instead gives us David Bednall’s graceful 2016 setting. It’s a work with too much of its own voice for straight pastiche, but which is absolutely steeped in Finzi’s language – an affectionate, serious musical homage that takes the composer as a jumping-off point for its own lovely invention. Along with the beautiful cover art – an image of Gloucester Cathedral’s Finzi Memorial Window – and excellent booklet notes by Francis Pott, it’s just another bonus from this outstanding release.

Alexandra Coghlan

Finzi - Choral Works
Hyperion Records CDA68222