Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Gerald FINZI
Three short elegies op.5 for mixed voices a cappella (words by William Drummond). London: Boosey & Hawkes, 1936 [1999 printing]. ISMN M-060-03044-4.

Gerald FINZI Songs to poems by Christina Rossetti op.1 for unison and two-part voices and piano. London: Boosey & Hawkes, 1999. ISMN M-060-11036-8 hire library +44(0)20 7580 5815

Here are reprints, issued with the support of the Finzi Trust, which bring back into circulation two examples of Finzi's skill and artistry as a miniaturist.

The Three Short Elegies, first published in 1936 are very short indeed - the third and longest is still less than two minutes. They set verses by William Drummond, a Scottish aristocrat and supporter of the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. Finzi had the acutest of ears for the rhythm and pace of English verse - so much so that not only is his style of word-setting instantly recognisable, but in its meticulousness it becomes, at times, almost mannerist. Those who know the songs and larger scale choral works will find copious pre-echoes not only of characteristic rhythmic groupings, but of actual melodic fragments as well. These poems dwell on the transience of human life, a favourite subject for Finzi, and he sets them lovingly, alive to every expressive nuance. The mercurial changes of tempo, and dynamic will need careful preparation and good choirs will find that the amount of work needed to realise the expressive potential of this music may seem out of proportion to its scale. But the trouble will be rewarded - these elegies are well worth the effort.

The Rossetti settings are in another category altogether. Originally published in two groups in 1936 and 1954, they were composed to service the market for good school class singing music which was buoyant in the first half of the twentieth century, but has largely sunk without trace now I fear. These miniatures are just as scrupulously put together as the elegies reviewed above, and the children who sang them, whether consciously or not, will have imbibed something of their sense of flow, their sensitivity of phrasing. But they are really no more than chippings from the workbench. The melodies themselves are artless; many resemble folktunes in their simplicity. The accompaniments are well within the grasp of the non-specialist teacher with a smattering of piano technique. They are beautifully crafted and admirably suited to their purpose - but what price that purpose now? I struggle to recall singing classes even in my own primary school days in the early '60s, and it is hard to imagine the streetwise kids of today keeping straight faces through 'Rosy maiden Winifred with a milk-pail on her head' or 'There's snow on the fields and cold in the cottage, while I sit in the chimney-nook supping hot pottage'. This view of the world is past and gone. For similar reasons I hardly think they could be reinvented as solo songs or duets - there is far more characteristic mature Finzi still in need of performance. But they're fun to read through, and its good to see them back in print in this centenary year.

Paul Andrews

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