VENABLES REQUIEM : Soloists / Choir of Gloucester Cathedral / Partington ★★★★

Ian Venables embarked on a commission for a Requiem reluctantly but the death of a close friend was the emotional spark which ignited the compositional process. It's a large scale forty-minute work ending with a radiant Lux aeterna. The world premiere recording benefits from Gloucester Cathedral's spacious acoustic and Adrian Partington directs the excellent choir, especially effective in the a cappella Pie Jesu. Short works by Venables, Gurney, Joubert and Sanders complete the disc. Death is also the subject of the works in Venables' song collection Love Lies Beyond the Tomb ★★★. Six Songs for Soprano and Piano, with Mary Bevan and Graham J. Lloyd are beautifully reflective and meditative settings. Through These Pale Cold Days, with tenor Allan Clayton, include bitter and trenchant war poems by Owen and Sassoon. Andrew Motion's eulogy on the Queen Mother – Remember This, for soprano, tenor, piano and string quartet – is an acquired taste.

Norman Stinchcombe

FINZII & VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Collins / Philharmonia Orchestra ★★★

Gerald Finzi's clarinet concerto is closely associated with Michael Collins: this is his third recording of a work which is a perfect match for his virtuoso style. He makes the first movement's switch from vigorous declamation to lyrical grace a seamless one and the finale's catchy carefree melody absolutely irresistible. Finzi's romantic central adagio is to be played "without rigour", a call for the soloist to sound flexible and improvisatory, which Collins certainly does. He's quite closely recorded which makes me prefer the slightly distanced vernally fresh sound of his 1987 recording now languishing in Warner Classics' vaults. Collins conducts the orchestra in Finzi and also a well-played, brisk performance of Vaughan Williams' fifth symphony. Pleasant enough but not matching the best: Haitink's epic sweep, the opening horn call almost Brucknerian, or Previn's glorious 1970 LSO recording which accentuates the scherzo's impish humour and makes the Romanza's yearning almost palpable.

Norman Stinchcombe

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