Despite his name, Gerald Finzi (1901-56) was a thoroughly British composer and a masterful setter of English words to music. Finzi's pungent harmonies, shadowed sonorities and flowing melodic lines (with hints of English folksong and Bach) prove plangent tools of expression.
He doesn't hold back--"Dies Natalis," a cantata for soprano and strings, rapturously captures the naivete and spiritual wonder of 17th century metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne; Hardy's "When I set out for Lyonesse" gets a sunny march treatment; Milton's "When I consider" and "How soon hath Time" slowly but surely unfurl to inspirational heights.
Five Shakespeare songs are set in "Let us garlands bring," including a haunting "Come away, come away, death." "Farewell to Arms" (poems by Knevet and Peele) ruminates with a fullness of feeling on peace and getting old.
The vaulting soprano of Rebecca Evans, the crisp tenor of Toby Spence, the intimate, burnished baritone of Michael George are remarkable, and Handley and the Bournemouth play as if they are in love with this music.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).