City of London Choir / Jeremy Irons / Roderick Williams / Hilary Davan Wetton / London Mozart Players

Flowers of the Field

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The connections among the four works on this album are rather tenuous: they are all, the packaging informs, by composers who "were all affected by the carnage of World War I." In fact two of the four works, George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad and Ivor Gurney's The Trumpet, were written before their composers experienced said carnage, while Vaughan Williams' An Oxford Elegy dates from 30 years later and is linked to the earlier pieces only by a third-party suggestion that the nostalgic mood of its 19th-century Matthew Arnold text might have been linked in the composer's mind to deaths during the war. It's a somewhat shapeless work with long passages of text that are spoken for no very good reason, but it's not commonly performed, and it has an elusively attractive offbeat quality. The other two works are world premieres: Ivor Gurney's stirring antiwar work The Trumpet is presented in an orchestration (the original work is for four-part chorus alone) by Philip Lancaster that serves the Edward Thomas poem well. Gurney suffered severe post-traumatic stress syndrome after being hit by poison gas and eventually went insane. The biggest news here is the Requiem da Camera of Gerald Finzi, unfinished and one of the composer's first large-scale works. Finzi was a teenager during World War I, but his mentor, Ernest Farrar, was killed, and the trio of elegiac poems he sets seems clearly to refer back to the Great War. The work is played here in a new completion by Christian Alexander, and it includes touching references to the Butterworth work. The City of London Choir and London Mozart Players under Hilary Davan Wetton are effectively complemented by baritone Roderick Williams in one of the Finzi songs, and the speaker in the Vaughan Williams is none other than Jeremy Irons. This is probably of more interest to serious fans of 20th century British music than to general listeners, but it does offer some worthwhile and unusual items.

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