“Toby Spence's singing in Dies Natalis is… rather special. On the one hand his musical phrasing is beautiful: the lines hover and soar just as they should. Yet at the same time he brings freshness and fluidity to the recitative-like passages, combined with strong feeling for the expressive weight of each word, which gives these moments the urgency of impassioned speech.”
“Tenor Toby Spence is the featured artist in this recital but the biggest work, taking up the second half of the programme, is Walton's Sonata for Strings, a fine work that has not been recorded nearly as often as it deserves. This is the piece, commissioned by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin, that Walton brilliantly adapted from his String Quartet of 1947, making a work for strings in the great tradition of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro and Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia.
Misleadingly, the Sonata opens with a passage for the string quartet alone, before developing into a full string piece when the opening theme is repeated. What comes out very clearly is not just how memorable Walton's thematic material is, but how clear the sonata-form structure is. In some ways this is the last of what one might regard as the pre-war Walton works, written when his partner, Alice, Lady Wimborne, was dying painfully of cancer.
The development section brings a strongly argued fugato, with the second-movement Scherzo, marked presto, bringing a dazzling arrangement of the quartet original. The slow movement is one of Walton's most beautiful, here given a deeply expressive performance by the Scottish Ensemble. Exceptionally for Walton, the reprise of the main material is extended, with the violas leading. The Allegro molto finale is vigorous with its cross rhythms and a more lyrical countersubject.
Toby Spence sings sensitively in Finzi's Diesnatalis, setting words by the mystic poet Thomas Traherne, starting with a prose poem entitled 'Rhapsody'. That leads to three more poems, with a vigorous, exhilarating movement, 'Wonder', separating the two more reflective movements.
It is among Finzi's finest works. The Romance for strings makes an attractive introduction to the programme. A first-rate issue.”