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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
A Severn Rhapsody Op. 3 (1923) [6:14]
Nocturne (New Year Music) Op. 7 (1925) [10:23]
Three Soliloquies for small orchestra from the Suite - Love’s Labours Lost Op. 28 (1946) [4:33]
Romance for string orchestra Op. 11 (1928) [8:08]
Prelude for string orchestra Op. 25 (1950s) [5:16]
The Fall of the Leaf, Elegy for orchestra Op. 20 (1950s) [9:14]
Introit for small orchestra and solo violin Op. 6 (1925) [9:48]
Eclogue for piano and string orchestra Op. 10 (1929, 1956) [10:33]
Grand Fantasia and Toccata for piano and orchestra Op. 38 (1928, 1953) [15:14]
Rodney Friend (violin), Peter Katin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Eclogue, Fantasia)
rec. 1970s. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.239 [79:26]



Let me first admit that these performances have always been close to my heart. Collectors will not need prompting from me to note that Boult’s contributions derive from SRCS84 and the two Katin-Handley performances from SRCS 92. On the reverse of that was the Clarinet Concerto with the estimable John Denman now coupled with Yo Yo Ma’s recording of the Cello Concerto (Lyrita SRCD236 - see review).
 
Boult does no wrong for me in this selection. He even manages to instil some coherence into the diffuse and not-entirely-satisfactory A Severn Rhapsody, an early work in which Finzi had not reconciled himself fully to rhapsodic writing. Despite the diffuseness of his inspiration, and the over-insistent lure of Butterworth as an inspiration, Boult charts an assured path. Was there a more bookish English composer than Finzi, quoting Lamb and the Elizabethans with equal facility and perception? Nocturne (New Year Music) is darker than one might have anticipated though ever-present sadness is the key. Note how wonderfully well the string and wind answering phrases are gauged, and so too that vocalised stamp as it evolves and mutates. Few can have judged the stalking pizzicato figures as well as Boult or the triumphant Festive end of the piece – magnificently done, like raised voices sung in praise, crowned by brass – before the return of those moments of reflection and sadness.
 
The Three Soliloquies for small orchestra from the Suite Love’s Labours Lost are light and graciously done. The Adagio is the most characteristically Finziesque in its melodic contours but the suite shows as a whole how usefully he wrote for lighter forces and in lighter style. Then there comes a string of beautifully crafted works. Rodney Friend can be heard in the Romance, a second cousin of the Introit, which soon enough follows in the programme, though its serene, untroubled and effortless unfolding is somewhat different to the better-known work. The Introit itself is splendidly done and Friend proves himself a fine soloist. He can’t dislodge my preference for Boult’s live performance with Gerald Jarvis but I’m not sure anyone can – this might be a minority view but I love that performance.
 
And so on it goes. The Prelude has grave twists in harmony and is sombrely reflective whilst Boult fashions The Fall of the Leaf – another study in passing time – with as much care as to its reflective, philosophic moments as to its lyric charge. Then to end we have the unsurpassable – I’ll risk it – Katin performances of the Eclogue and the Grand Fantasia. The former sounds like a Ravel slow movement, the whole thing memorably done. And the Grand Fantasia is heard in this performance by the man who premiered it in 1954. It’s not an easy piece to get to grips with but once you do you will relish the slightly hokey Stokowski-Henry Woodisms and the strange brief hallucinatory appearance of Copland in the Fantasia.
 
Superb sound and Diana McVeagh’s astute notes cap a mandatory purchase for lovers of the English muse, and of course for Finzi lovers in particular. 
 
Jonathan Woolf 

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and Gary Higginson

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