Intimations of Immortality Ode for tenor solo, chorus and orchestra
The Trees so High Symphonic Ballad in A minor
Ian Partridge (tenor)
Guildford Philharmonic Choir
Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley [Finzi]
Thomas Allen (baritone)
Guildford Philharmonic Choir
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Vernon Handley [Hadley]
Recording dates and locations not advised in Lyritas annotation; copyright dates are 1975 for Finzi and 1979 for Hadley
Reviewed by: Andrew Achenbach
Reviewed: March 2007
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.238
Duration: 77 minutes
Here’s a sensible and generous re-coupling of two of Vernon Handley’s most valuable large-scale projects for Lyrita. Both are conducted with the utmost perception, the Finzi acting as a welcome reminder of the high standards attained by the Guildford Philharmonic under its founder and long-time chief.
The Symphonic Ballad “The Trees so High” by Patrick Hadley (1899-1973) dates from 1931, the last of its four linked movements comprising a deeply touching and highly imaginative setting for baritone and mixed chorus of the eponymous Somerset folksong. There are echoes of Vaughan Williams and Delius (the high-lying divisi string-writing owes much to the latter’s “Song of the High Hills”), but repeated hearings reveal a quietly distinctive voice, and the work’s potent blend of piercing beauty, pantheistic wonder and anguished intensity will handsomely reward the inquisitive listener. Matthias Bamert’s Chandos version with the Philharmonia Orchestra may be more polished but seldom matches the superb pacing and sheer emotional clout of this pioneering account; indeed, with Thomas Allen at his surpassingly eloquent, golden-toned best, tears are never far away during the jaw-droppingly lovely (and harmonically searching) closing pages, which distil an overwhelming sense of loss and heartache.
Handley’s similarly involving realisation of Finzi’s “Intimations of Immortality” brings another unforgettable vocal display, this time from Ian Partridge. His is singing of sublime artistry, sensitivity and intelligence, with no trace of the distracting strain or wobble that marred Philip Langridge’s otherwise deeply-felt contribution on Richard Hickox’s 1989 EMI Royal Liverpool Philharmonic version. Not only does Handley secure a finely disciplined and committed response from his massed Guildford forces, he also steers a wonderfully sympathetic and clear-sighted course through Finzi’s ambitious treatment of lines from Wordsworth’s ode. The rising horn phrase heard at the start acts as a motto for the entire piece and encloses two faster episodes whose spirit of the dance recalls similar passages in Holst’s “Choral Symphony” and Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast”. They in turn frame the more meditative central stanzas and it is both here and in the deeply moving final section (“The Clouds that gather round the setting sun”) that Finzi’s inspiration is at its most consistently compelling.
I’m happy to be able to report that Lyrita’s mid-1970s tapes have retained their lustre in this tasteful re-mastering by Simon Gibson. Beautifully presented (as on the original LPs, the annotations are by William Mann and Diana McVeagh), this is a disc not to be missed.