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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
A Severn Rhapsody, Op. 5 (1923) [6.14]
Nocturne, Op. 7 (c.1925) [10.23]
Three Soliloquies for small orchestra (1946): (Grazioso [1.40]; Adagio [1.40]; Allegretto [1.19])
Romance for string orchestra, Op 11 (1928) [8.08]
Prelude for string orchestra, Op 25 (date uncertain) [5.16]
Introit for small orchestra and solo violin, Op 6 (1925) [9.48]
The Fall of a Leaf - Elegy for Orchestra Op 25 [9.14] 
Eclogue for piano and orchestra (1956) [10.33]
Grand Fantasia and Toccata for piano and orchestra (1953) [15.14]
Rodney Friend (violin), Peter Katin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Eclogue, Fantasia)
rec. 1978 (Boult); 1977 (Handley), venues not given. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.239 [79.26]

I was especially pleased to see that at last the Boult ex-LP of Finzi miniatures was on CD. First, because on the LP the tracks ran quickly into each other and as the mood of several of the pieces is somewhat similar it was more than easy, after a lapse of concentration, to forget which piece you are on. Secondly because having Boult, and for that matter Handley, conducting Finzi is somehow to possess the authentic voice of a British, mid-20th century sound. Thirdly this disc also draws into its compass the ‘Grand Fantasia’ and the ‘Eclogue’ with the irrepressible Peter Katin. In addition the recording is warm and friendly and the whole enterprise oozes a long lost world never to be recaptured. Also, at seventy-nine minutes it is extremely good value.
But before I get too sentimental, I must stop and emphasise that although Finzi has been or might be termed the best example of the ‘cow-pat’ school as purportedly coined by Elizabeth Lutyens, this music is not a mere wallow in nostalgia for an old England. There is pain and suffering here; this is music from the heart to the heart. True, it can and does evoke a landscape of serenity and beauty but scratch the surface and you will definitely find much more.
So we should begin with Op. 3, ‘A Severn Rhapsody’, composed in the Cotswolds at Painswick, also the home of another composer C.W. Orr. It was in 1988 that I sat in Ashmansworth Parish Church, just in Hampshire, where Finzi is buried and heard this piece whilst looking at Laurence Whistler’s window. Engraved on that window are fifty names of important and less well known English composers from Dunstable to Britten. It is good to think of Finzi in the polyphonic tradition of the madrigalists listed and with the earlier names. His use of these old modes and related characteristics are to be found in the Rhapsody, as in another early work, the ‘Introit’. When you hear these pieces and then a late work like the ‘Grand Fantasia’ you realize how far Finzi had travelled on his musical journey.
The title ‘Rhapsody’ only appears once on the CD yet it is a form which could easily apply to several of the works. It implies a free piece in no fixed structure, or a piece which creates its own form, it is to be hoped, not in too rambling a way. The ‘Nocturne’ Op. 7 is typical. It is subtitled ‘New Year Music’ and begins in a Sibelian gloom as if Finzi was not looking forward to the year ahead. The CD booklet calls it a ‘sober sadness’. It gradually rises to a climax which at its height is some of the loudest, most passionate music on the disc. This lasts for at least two minutes before falling away and ending as it began. These central climaxes are common to most of the early pieces.
The earlier works tend towards the pastoral and are not so searching. The melodies fall more readily into equal length phrases, but even by the time of the rather Elgarian Op. 11 ‘Romance’ for strings a stronger voice is emerging. That said, a preference for single movement utterances was to remain with him for some time to come. True, it is rather less introverted, more outgoing, than the earlier works, but it’s the sense of line, of melody, which is now much more striking.
Then comes ‘The Fall of a Leaf’ - which again rises to a massive central climax - and the Prelude Op. 25. They were thought of as a pair. The Prelude was originally called ‘The Bud’ evoking spring. ‘The Fall of the Leaf’, the title taken from a harpsichord piece by Martin Peerson (c.1600) evokes Autumn. Perhaps, as Diana McVeagh comments in her excellent booklet notes, they should be thought of as part of a triptych along with ‘Nocturne’s’ winter landscape. Finzi never finalized these ideas and Howard Ferguson completed ‘The Leaf’ after Finzi’s death.
The Eclogue Op. 10 has proved an especially popular work of late. Scored for piano and strings I always think that this is a prime example of an orchestral work by a song composer … and what a melody! It post-dates the ‘Grand Fantasia’ and may have been meant as the slow movement of a Piano Concerto. The Eclogue has the early opus number as it was first drafted in the 1920s and redrafted in later life. Both ‘Eclogue’ and ‘The Fall of a Leaf’ received their first performances early in 1957 just after the composer’s death.
Perhaps, at the end of his all-too-short life, Finzi was contemplating a piano concerto to match the two other wonderful concertos for clarinet and cello although at this time the latter must have been just fermenting in his mind. In the event he produced a much more original, arguably eccentric, work: ‘The Grand Fantasia and Toccata’. The extravert ‘Fantasia’ inspired, I should think, by Handel’s great keyboard preludes, is almost entirely dominated by the soloist. The Toccata is a vibrant, contrapuntal even fugual tour-de-force demonstrating the need for showmanship and virtuosity and reaching a rousing conclusion - all singularly successful.
For anyone new to Finzi this disc is an ideal place to start: music which sums up his style, superbly recorded and incomparably performed.
Gary Higginson

see also review by Rob Barnett

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