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Patrick HADLEY (1899-1973)
The Trees so High: Symphonic Ballad in A minor (1931) [34.07]
Thomas Allen (baritone)
Guildford Philharmonic Choir
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)

Intimations of Immortality - Ode for tenor solo, chorus and orchestra (1949) [43.12]
Ian Partridge (tenor)
Guildford Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. 1970s. ADD
original recordings made in association with the Finzi and RVW Trusts (Finzi); RVW Trust (Hadley)
LYRITA SRCD 238 [77:19]


The inaugural batch of truly new Lyritas came out in January but review copies have until now been in short supply. This is the first disc from that batch and it is gloriously successful.

On offer here are two enduringly fresh glories of the British choral renaissance united by the Guildford Philharmonic Choir and Vernon Handley. Each work eschews the cloying fustian of Victoriana. The applied sensibility of the two composers is very much of the twentieth century. The two works appear together for the first time and make a substantial and frankly irresistible offering.

You will have noted the analogue origins. This need hold no fears for any purchaser. The sound is intrinsically splendid and remains so quite untroubled by the passage of arms from analogue to digital. Simon Gibson the transfer engineer held in his hands the impossibly exalted expectations of a generation or two of listeners and has met those expectations – long may he labour over those tapes. I am fascinated to hear what he does with the intrinsically glorious tapes of Boult’s version of the Moeran Symphony, Del Mar in Bax 6 and Rignold’s of the Bliss John Blow Meditations and Music for Strings. Precious cargo indeed!

Turning first to the Hadley – which has a track per movement. The best demonstration of the successful transfer is in the silky sheen of the violins in the Andante tranquillo of the Hadley (tr. 2, 3:50-4:30). Even with headphones and the volume turned up high I could only ever just hear a subtle hush underpinning Carl Pini’s con molto amore violin solo in the third movement and again his poignant solo under the words … and buttercups in the finale. The rich ominous tones of the bass drum at the start of the finale – where the choir and soloist join for the first time induces an honest and wondering shiver. At the end the concatenation of the sung words The trees so high, forever and farewell continues to lend this work and this recording towering emotional power. Even if you have the equally superb Chandos version you need this one as well.

Then to the Finzi Intimations: a personal favourite. How liberating it is to have the horn call from eternity, right at the very start, sing out with such pregnant tension without the slightest hint of LP rumble. It simply floats free and launches this major work with serenity and the promise of revelation. Both percussion and heavy brass register with a completely apt gruffness and a bright glow in the Now, While the Birds … We can forgive Finzi the Waltonian wand with which the percussion voices are touched. The same goes for the brass for that matter at (tr. 8 2:53 and 3:21; tr. 9 0:22). The recording stands up supremely well to those ringing massed choral cries of Shout round me! It was always adroitly balanced with as much attention to projecting massed fortissimo outbursts as to confiding asides. The woodwind graces that reach out to the listener from time to time as in the flute-trilling birdsong that dynamically entwines I love the brooks (tr. 14) are done with touching fidelity. At the start of tr. 10 Our Birth is but a Sleep … the purity with which the timps and brass are rendered is a thing of sheer joy. Just one blemish – a series of barely audible distant clicks in tr. 10 at 3:20, 3:33, 3:40 and 3:44. Back to the positive though: in tr. 13 listen for the cavernously hoarse tuba morphing into a rumba – a similar coup to be found in the finale of Finzi’s Cello Concerto.

Those who may have looked askance at the Guildford Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra have no reason to be critical. Handley had been conducting that orchestra and choir since the 1960s. He made several Bax recordings with them in the 1960s for the Revolution label. There is nothing here that is poor or amateurish. There are some extremely demanding moments at which the choir more than meet the challenge. One example is in tr. 10 at 1:22 where the chorus, coming in cold, hit the word God, on a high exposed entry, slap bang on the note. On the words ‘We in thought will join your throng’ they project a lovely radiant tone without a hint of ferocity.

This is the version to have. It is superior to all others although the wonderful Gilchrist on Naxos comes close. The Langridge/EMI is excellent from the point of view of orchestral sound but the tenor singing is marred by an excessively wobbly vibrato and much the same applies to the Hyperion. You may be less allergic to this factor than me but in this work where the music and the words are of equal significance I find that cycling throb in the voice a real obstacle. Listen to Partridge at And O ye Fountains … and to the explosive crescendo in One delight.

These recordings first appeared separately on LP, the Finzi in 1975 as SRCS75 and the Hadley in 1979 on SRCS106 coupled with the same composer’s Vaughan Williams tribute One Morning in Spring – the latter conducted by Boult. The Boult item will reappear as part of the April release programme under SRCD 245 with other Boult Lyrita recordings: Butterworth: Two English Idylls; Banks of Green Willow; A Shropshire Lad; Warlock: An Old Song; Hadley: One Morning in Spring; Howells: Procession; Merry Eye; Elegy for viola, string quartet and strings; Music for a Prince.

The liner-notes for the present disc are by William Mann (Hadley) and Diana McVeagh (Finzi). The sung words are given in the booklet in full although following the shifting narrative stance of the Hadley demands mental agility from the reader/listener.

As is common with Lyrita the exact date and location of recording sessions is not given.

Matchless versions of major works by Hadley and Finzi. An outstanding achievement by composers, performers and technicians.

Rob Barnett

Comparative reviews – other versions
Hadley The Trees So High - Chandos
Finzi Intimations of Immortality



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