Finzi Dies Natalis & Clarinet Concerto
This disc offers a strong, dedicated account of the Finzi Clarinet Concerto from Marriner pere et fils. Orchestral playing of imposing bite and seriousness sets the scene for the opening Allegro vigoroso, an immaculately groomed display of considerable purpose and power. It is all, however, perhaps just a bit short on intuitive poetry and fantasy, a reservation which applies even more to the rapt slow movement. The rival pairing of Emma Johnson and Sir Charles Groves must take precedence here: as the hushed introduction immediately proclaims, Marriner is not as atmospheric a tone-painter as Groves, and it is Johnson who displays the more daring individuality and improvisatory flair in her phrasing. There are few if any grumbles about the immensely spirited finale, though again, I detect in the rival ASV account a marginally greater sense of playfulness, sheer fun even. None the less, the Marriners’ reading remains a sympathetic, stylish achievement overall, vividly engineered to boot.
There follow warm-hearted accounts of the Romance for string orchestra and New Year Music, though the latter’s poignant, insistent tread was even more searchingly realized by Hickox and the Northern Sinfonia on a mid-price British Composers CD (EMI, 8/94 – nla). As for Dies natalis, Ian Bostridge gives us perhaps the most sheerly intelligent, scrupulously prepared version of Finzi’s sublime cantata on disc, full of bracing keenness and newly-minted discovery. With his effortless technical control, imaginative tonal shading, highly illuminating word-painting and impeccable diction, Bostridge cuts a commanding figure indeed (his acutely sensitive delivery of “Wonder” is perfection itself). His is a lovely, ringing voice, which only fractionally loses bloom on those two high B flats in “The Rapture”. My single nagging qualm concerns an ever-so-slight want of innocence, naivety, call it what you will. This will sound impossibly churlish, I know, but at times I found myself almost too conscious of the artistry on show: the more natural, less self-aware John Mark Ainsley conveys a fractionally greater sense of the childhood wonder in Traherne’s text so exquisitely mirrored by Finzi’s music. Needless to say, Sir Neville and the Academy provide highly accomplished, affectionate backing, though Vernon Handley – see above – uncovers an extra spirituality and tender hush in both the “Intrada” and “Salutation”. Again, the Philips recording is excellent. Not everyone, I fancy, will share my tiny doubts about Dies natalis, making this a release all Anglophiles should try and hear.'