In the case of Gerald Finzi, it is difficult if not impossible to speak of better and worse works. The twentieth century English composer's small but highly polished and deeply felt oeuvre allows no such criticism. One can, however, speak of more and less popular works. Chief among the former must rank his Shakespeare song cycle "Let us Garlands bring" for baritone and piano or, as here, string orchestra, settings of such artistic perfection that even Schubert's setting of "Who is Sylvia?" could not be said to be superior. And while it would be hard to determine with assurance which of Finzi's works is the least popular, among the songs for voice and orchestra, either his "Farewell to Arms" or his "Two Sonnets" by John Milton might be so described without fear of exaggeration. Thus, this Lyrita disc combines Finzi's best-known songs with his least-known songs and couples them with his most vivid and evocative orchestral work, the suite from his incidental music to a production of Love's Labour's Lost, and one of his two exceedingly lovely Christmas works, "In terra pax" for soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra (the other being "Dies Natalis"). The vocal soloists are uniformly excellent and consistently English: their diction is excellent, their technique exemplary, and their tone fruity. In "Let us Garlands bring," some listeners may prefer Bryn Terfel's brash artistry to John Carol Case's reserved sensitivity, but few would assert Case's interpretation is less satisfactory. Vernon Handley, an able and attentive accompanist in the vocal works, is a brilliant and colorful conductor in the "Love's Labour's Lost" suite, and the New Philharmonia is as subtle and shaded in the vocal works as the Royal Philharmonic is in the orchestral works. As always, Lyrita's sound is clean, clear, cool, and deep.
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AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Love's Labours Lost, incidental music, suite for small orchestra, Op 28|
|Let Us Garlands Bring, song cycle for voice & piano (or string orchestra), Op. 18|
|Sonnets (2), for tenor (or sorpano) & ensemble, Op. 12|
|Farewell To Arms for tenor & small orchestra (or string orchestra), Op 9|
|In Terra Pax for soprano, baritone, chorus & orchestra, Op 39|