WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDINGS
These composers were all affected by the carnage of World War I, and their elegiac music expresses regret and lost innocence, love won and lost, sacrifice and death. George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, conceived as an epilogue to his Housman song cycles, encapsulates the poet’s sense of life’s transience. Ivor Gurney was both shot and gassed in 1917, and The Trumpet pleads with mankind to set aside the folly of war. Heard here in a new completion, Gerald Finzi’s Requiem da Camera mourns the death of his mentor Ernest Farrar and those of other fallen artists, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy recalls lost friends with an intense and magical nostalgia.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS An Oxford Elegy
FINZI Requiem da Camera* (edited and completed by Christian Alexander)
GURNEY The Trumpet*
BUTTERWORTH A Shropshire Lad – Rhapsody for Orchestra
*World premiere recordings
Roderick Williams, baritone
Jeremy Irons, narrator
City of London Choir
London Mozart Players
Hilary Davan Wetton, conductor
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, London SE1, 11th & 12th July 2014
Released November 2014 (Naxos 8.573426)
Specialist Classical Chart:
Highest new entry at No. 2 (w/e 15th November 2014)
No. 1 (22nd November 2014)
For further details please visit the Naxos website
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Mail on Sunday – Album of the Week
‘Flowers of the Field is an eloquent tribute to composers whose lives were ended, or irrevocably changed, by the Great War… Finzi felt his loss deeply, and tried to express it in the Requiem da Camera, but he was still very young, his reach exceeded his grasp, and he never finished the work.
That job has now been very effectively done by the composer Christian Alexander, and was premiered by the City of London Choir and Hilary Davan Wetton…. Their fine recording now makes this piece a very worthwhile addition to the Finzi discography.
Hilary Davan Wetton is surely our finest choral conductor, and does really well on this record with both his City of London Choir, and the London Mozart Players.
I can think of no better way to crystallise our thoughts on this Remembrance Sunday than with such a beautifully refined and sympathetically chosen album. At the end of the Vaughan Williams piece, the poet writes, ‘Roam on! The light we sought is shining still.’ For these composers, that light was great music, and it can still illuminate our lives today.’
David Mellor also made Flowers of the Field his Connoisseur’s Choice on Classic FM’s New Releases show, Saturday 8th November 2014
Sunday Telegraph November 2014
Senseless suffering: Gerald Finzi’s music was deeply scarred by war
‘Finzi’s haunting music may have been out of step with the prevailing modern aesthetic in the years after his death, but in our more pluralist times it has proved itself ripe for appreciative rediscovery…The new recording is an important addition to the Finzi discography, proving the composer right in his belief that “a song outlasts a dynasty”.’
The Times November 2014
‘British music entirely fills Naxos’s Flowers of the Field skilfully delivered by the City of London Choir and London Mozart Players conducted by Hilary Davan Wetton… the album earns a place in the sun for its first recording of Gerald Finzi’s sorrowing Requiem da Camera, a fascinating early work from the Twenties touched with Finzi’s special magic.’
The Guardian October 2014
‘…Two of the works here appear in versions that are recorded for the first time: Philip Lancaster’s orchestration of the anthem-like choral setting by Ivor Gurney of Edward Thomas’s The Trumpet; and Gerald Finzi’s Requiem da Camera, in a new performing edition by Christian Alexander.
Requiem da Camera, which Finzi composed in the 1920s in memory of his teacher Ernest Farrar, who died on the Somme in 1918, was his first attempt at an extended work. Its centrepiece is a baritone setting of Hardy’s In Time of the Breaking of Nations, flanked by choral settings of Masefield and Gibson and introduced with an orchestral prelude that has phrases from Butterworth’s Housman song Loveliest of Trees woven through it. It was never performed complete in Finzi’s lifetime, and has only been recorded once before (by Richard Hickox on Chandos, in a different edition) so this version, intelligently paced by Hilary Davan Wetton with Roderick Williams as the matchless baritone soloist, is a significant addition to the Finzi catalogue.
… Davan Wetton makes [George Butterworth’s orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad] more than usually urgent and anguished while revealing its unexpected debt to Sibelius…’
Financial Times November 2014
‘…first recordings of the newly completed “Requiem da camera” by Gerald Finzi and “The Trumpet” by Ivor Gurney, war poet and composer…’
‘It is not so often that new or little-known items by the composer Gerald Finzi (1901-56) emerge… There was surprise and delight, therefore, in discovering that the City of London Choir, under its conductor, Hilary Davan Wetton, has not only readdressed, but also recorded, Finzi’s early Requiem da Camera, a 20-minute work evolved scarcely five years after the Great War, but not heard till the 1990s… This was a noble performance that captured the yearning, mixed with enchantment, of this rare work: not quite mature in design, but absorbing in its honesty. We owe this valuable new edition of the whole work, heard also on disc with Vaughan Williams and Gurney (Naxos 8.573426; the City of London Choir has already recorded Finzi’s Christmas cantata In Terra Pax on 8.572102), to the editor Christian Alexander.’
David’s Review Corner
‘Flowers of the Field’ is part of the centenary of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in the 1914–18 war, including the death of George Butterworth. In total this is a superb disc, the performances and recording all equally excellent.’
‘The English pastoral school was reaching maturity as the First World War broke out, and its nostalgic expressivity proved ideal for honouring fallen friends in the decades that followed.
This album opens with A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth, who died at the Somme in 1916. Although the work is often performed, this version is unusual. Rather than wistful evocations, we are presented with direct emotions, in broad, expressive strokes.
Finzi’s Requiem da Camera is dedicated to his teacher Ernest Farrar, an early casualty of the war. The tone is noble but personal, and is perfectly conveyed here. Roderick Williams is in fine voice, his tone rich but unforced and his pronunciation admirably clear. Ivor Gurney’s part-song The Trumpet is presented in a recent orchestral version by Philip Lancaster. An air of Anglican observance hangs over the work, intensifying its funereal character.
Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy has little to do with the war, but its tone and mood make it an ideal conclusion. Nebulous textures from orchestra and choir are set against a stentorian narration. Jeremy Irons is noble but always expressive. Choir and orchestra are excellent throughout the programme, technically precise and warm of tone. An inventive and original memorial, then, to commemorate WW1′s centenary, performed with sensitivity and without undue restraint.’ Read complete review
Gavin Dixon, December 2014
BBC Music Magazine
‘…this is an unusual and moving programme.’
Michael Scott Rohan January 2015
‘Sometimes a recording is made that gets a very fast track to release. Flowers in the Field must be one of the fastest released disc in Naxos catalogue. Recorded over two days in July 2014 and arriving already by November, this selection of deeply moving works composed in the aftermath of World War I may be one of the label’s finest yet… A favorite of Boult, who recorded and programmed it often, this lush and intensely moving performance [of Butterworth's Shropshire Lad Rhapsody] may be one of the finest of those available and makes for an apt opening to a disc that focuses on musical responses to the war… Hilary Davan Wetton serves these works very well… Overall, this is a fabulous collection of English music with a standout performance of the Butterworth and Vaughan Williams, and the wonderful Finzi discovery making this a very sweet discovery.’ Read complete review
Steven A. Kennedy December 2014
Voix des Arts
‘This new disc from NAXOS, Flowers of the Field, recorded in beautifully natural, spacious sound, takes the listener back to the trenches, to No Man’s Land, to the drawing rooms and kitchen tables of England, where families awaited news of their own soldiers and sailors. Art is in many ways the antithesis of war, but reactions to the complex, ambiguous sentiments of war-torn social orders have engendered some of the most extraordinary works of art in all genres. To the individual responses to WWI by four of England’s finest composers is owed the existence of the music on Flowers of the Field. Their perspectives were different, and it ironically was the oldest of the four composers represented on this disc who lived longest after the cessation of hostilities in 1918, but all of the music on Flowers of the Field provides intensely personal views of the horrors of what sadly did not prove to be the war to end all wars.Under the insightfully-wielded baton of Hilary Davan Wetton, the London Mozart Players give a subtle, sonorous account of George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad—Rhapsody for Orchestra. The climax to which the music builds is achieved by Maestro Wetton with perfect control of thematic development. The incandescent performance by the London Mozart Players and Maestro Wetton is a fitting tribute to the composer…
[In] Ralph Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy…the choristers, orchestra, and Maestro Wetton perform the music incisively, creating the impression that they are directly experiencing the incomprehensible losses of WWI rather than singing about them a century later…
…what these composers said in music is the legacy of World War One that must persevere: that every life mattered, every death left an empty seat at a dinner table, and every blood-soaked trench scarred the earth in ways that can never be healed. This disc and the sincere, heartfelt performances that it preserves rekindle the hope that every tear shed for the victims of WWI indeed gave life to flowers of the field.’ Read complete review
Joseph Newsome December 2014
‘The spirituality of the four works on a Naxos CD called Flowers of the Field is tied not to a time of celebration or peace but to the opposite: a time of terror and war. All four are, in part or whole, composers’ reactions to World War I, and all reach out far beyond those directly affected by the war and its depredations to everyone who has experienced loss in wartime, and by extension to all who have known loss in any form and under any circumstances. The moving extension in which mourning for individuals becomes something of greater scope is especially clear in Vaughan Williams’ An Oxford Elegy… [The work] is far from typical for Vaughan Williams, its pervasive melancholy and nostalgia recalling the composer’s lost friends and resolving only at the end toward a sort of resignation that seems to stop somewhere short of full acceptance. Movingly performed under the direction of Hilary Davan Wetton, it crowns a disc that also includes music by lesser composers who, in the case of these specific works, express themselves with equal intensity. Also here is Requiem da Camera by Gerald Finzi…An expansive and emotive piece, Finzi’s reaches out beyond individual artists to mourn the destruction, by implication, of art itself, and thus of the uplift that it can provide. The sensitivity of the music is well-communicated here, and the performers make the entire CD into a very moving experience.’ Read complete review