Mike Sheppard’s latest project for Decca, ‘Introit — the music of Gerald Finzi’, for which he re-orchestrated and re-arranged four well-known Finzi pieces, went straight into the classical chart at no 1. A delighted Sheppard commented: “It’s wonderful to see Gerald Finzi’s music getting the recognition it so richly deserves. In working on this album I found a new insight into music that I already loved. To spend so much time delving into the minutiae of his music made me realise the great skill and compositional craft that went into his music.

When Decca Executive Producer Alexander Van Ingen invited Artemis contemporary composer Mike Sheppard — along with three other notable British composers — to ‘re-imagine’ four pieces by the British composer Gerald Finzi for a forthcoming CD with the Aurora Orchestra, under Nicholas Collon, he was intrigued.

Sheppard explains: “It has been 60 years since Gerald Finzi died and, in conjunction with the Finzi Trust, Decca wanted to celebrate the life and work of this marvellous composer. I am a huge fan of his music — the Dies Natalis is a simply stunning work — so I jumped at the opportunity.

As a composer I enjoy creating music that sustains lyrical threads whilst interweaving them with a harmonic palette that is rich, yet accessible. It seems to me that this is also a perfect description of Finzi’s music.

The biggest challenge was to take songs — where Finzi had painstakingly set the words quite brilliantly — and ‘re-imagine’ those pieces for a number of soloists with orchestra. In my case I had the pleasure of working with the saxophonist Amy Dickson and the French Horn player Nicolas Fleury.

So, for example, in Rollicum-Rorum — a rollicking drinking song in strophic form — the challenge was to create an instrumental piece that had the spirit of the words without actually being able to connect to those words. So I liberated the melodic line and created teeming, cascading semiquaver runs back and forth between the soloist and orchestra to capture the ‘joie de vivre’ of the original.

The album has had a warm reception from critics:

“Finzi’s own compositions, several presented here in new arrangements by such as Paul Mealor and Mike Sheppard, seem to preserve a quintessentially British sensibility too.” Independent
“this release is attractively innovative in broadening the spectrum beyond the comparatively well-known cantata Dies natalis and the Clarinet Concerto, and in presenting some familiar works in a new guise… this is a touching, beautifully performed tribute” Daily Telegraph
“Each of the album’s new arrangements, commissioned for Aurora Orchestra by the Finzi Trust, offers fresh perspectives on the lyrical warmth of Finzi’s music.” Catholic Universe