I still remember the
excitement of going out to purchase
Lyrita records. I cannot recall their
price back in the early ’seventies –
but I guess it was around the £2 mark
[it was a premium priced
label at £2.76 in 1975 - LM].
I certainly know that ‘saving’ was an
important part of the process. My first
acquisition was William Alwyn’s Third
Symphony coupled with The Magic
Island – still two of my favourite
British works. More than any other possessions,
I can recall where I bought virtually
every Lyrita record. I must have been
I had read in the musical
press that a large choral work by Gerald
Finzi was about to be released. In 1975
I was living in Glasgow and the main
record shop was ‘Symphony One’. I pestered
them every day for a fortnight until
the record finally arrived. I rushed
home after work and put it on the turntable.
I was blown away by the music and strangely,
for an eighteen year old, empathised
with the Wordsworth-ian words. The only
down-side was that I did not have the
company of the girl who I was madly
in love with. I wanted her next to me
for that first hearing of one of the
great masterworks of English music.
Sylvia loved British Music but alas
she never came to love me!
This is not the place
to dissect the Intimations of Immortality
– or ‘Immorality’ as Mrs Malaprop would
have called it. However there are two
reasons why this is a great work: why
this is a fundamental cantata for listeners
and singers alike.
Firstly, the anti-pastoral
school of music would define Finzi as
one of their ‘cowpat’ composers. And
of course that judgement is entirely
wrong. There are few cows, gates or
rustics in any of Finzi’s music. The
key components of his compositions are
retrospection and a deep feeling for
the transience of life. It is not a
negative emotion as such, but nearly
all of Finzi’s music has a valedictory
feel to it. It may be the Bach-like
movement of parts or simply the orchestral
colouring or the Hardy-esque sentiment
of much of his music.
Wordsworth had written
a neo-platonic poem that posited the
immortality of the human soul. He insisted
that this soul had pre-existed in some
alternative state prior to its present
condition of ‘occupying’ our bodies.
After our death it will return to that
‘paradise’. Wordsworth considered it
an axiom that a child is nearer to this
bliss than the full grown woman or man.
Its thought-scape has echoes of Thomas
Traherne’s ‘Centuries’ which Finzi had
also set to music in Dies Natalis.
Intimations of Immortality is
a description of the response to the
world by an adult but through a child’s
eyes. And in this Wordsworth is successful;
it is one of his better poems.
Secondly, Finzi’s music
is varied harmonically and is rhythmically
challenging. It is a fine essay in successful
word-setting. It is definitely not pastoral
although there are moments of calm and
repose. The sources of this music are
largely Finzi’s own; however the listener
will hear echoes of Parry, Vaughan Williams,
and even Walton. Intimations
presents the listener with a challenge
akin to the Cello Concerto. This is
not easy music: it is not what many
listeners would expect from the pen
of this composer – but it is an entirely
rewarding and fundamentally uplifting
work that explores some of the deepest
concerns of humankind.
Finally who cannot
be moved by the closing words of Wordsworth’s
poem as set by Finzi:-
The clouds that gather round the setting
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms
Thanks to the human heart by which we
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys,
To me the meanest flower that blows
Thoughts that do often lie too deep
reviewers on MusicWeb have compared
all four recordings of this work. I
will not add to this. What I will say
is that although the versions by Naxos,
Chandos and EMI have great value and
are important additions to the CD repertory,
I believe that Lyrita wins by a long
chalk. Perhaps it is simply the fact
that it is the version I first came
to know? However it may be I find that
Ian Partridge’s singing totally and
utterly epitomises this work for me.
This is the stuff of which heaven is
Hadley was a York discovery for me.
I was browsing in Banks Music Shop –
in the days when it was still ruled
over with a rod of iron by ‘Ma Banks’.
Those readers who remember her will
recall the fear and trepidation she
instilled in both staff and customers!
Anyhow I spotted this record by a composer
of whom I had never heard. But such
was my trust in Lyrita that I raided
my wallet and walked out of the shop
with a brand new listening experience
under my arm.
have to say that I was not terribly
impressed with the work on first listening,
way back in 1979. It has been a piece
that I have come to love over the years.
Whilst writing this review I set to
wondering what didn’t quite click for
me nearly thirty years ago. I guess
that I was confused by a ‘choral’ work
that did not have any singing until
the last movement. I had failed to spot,
or at least register, the title - a
Symphonic Ballad in A minor!
Secondly I felt that the text was somewhat
depressing. But that was a long time
ago – before I had read Thomas Hardy!
Hadley has given us is a perfectly balanced
consideration of life – both in general
and in countryside particular. He meditates
on the swing of the seasons of nature
and the short span of a man's life.
The last movement of this work epitomises
a sense of loss, of transience and of
sheer sadness. Thomas Allen’s solo and
the choral meditation are profoundly
moving. Yet the overall mood of the
music is less fraught. The first three
movements include an almost impressionistic
overview of the countryside and the
thoughts of those living there and those
who have a propensity to visit. It is
a compellingly fine, reflective
and memorable symphony that must continue
to be in the canon of English music
- essential listening. I
have no doubt that this is Patrick Hadley’s
is easy to play hunt the influence in
this great piece. Cognoscenti will spot
nods towards Fred Delius and Ralph Vaughan
Williams however it is fair to say that
Hadley is beholden to no man.
are to be commended for re-releasing
these two fine performances. And it
is appropriate that they are recorded
back to back. Of course I do not suggest
that they are listened to as such. Take
one at a time, read the excellent programme
notes and peruse the texts before listening.
However, even a cursory study of these
two works will reveal much in common
in both composers’ approach to life
and death and the soul.
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