This double CD set
is called with no false modesty 'The
Finzi Collection'. It is more a case
of A Finzi Collection including
some good versions, some very good recordings
and some that satisfy but are not of
the very best.
Any survey needs to
be prefaced by a caveat. The Finzi discography
is skewed by the continuing non-availability
on CD of the pioneering recordings made
by Lyrita during the period 1968-1979.
No Yo-Yo Ma cello concerto, no Ian Partridge
Intimations, no Handley In
Terra Pax, no Carol Case, Jenkins
or Tear in the songs, no Boult in the
smaller pieces like Introit,
Severn Rhapsody (now there's
a piece unrecorded by anyone since!)
and Nocturne, no Denman Clarinet
Concerto, no Katin in the Eclogue.
If these were reissued on CD they would
in many, even most, cases change the
roster of top recommendations. Unaccountably
they remain locked away from us. Who
knows how long this will continue.
The present Decca set
is a more open-handed anthology than
the company’s previous 'British Music
Collection' Finzi volume (468 807-2).
This played across two discs for just
over two hours.
Natalis is very good with only
an infrequent surrender by the tenor
to a displeasing bleat e.g. at 2.20
on the word 'love'. Otherwise this is
a touching and intelligently sung reading
with the best ever orchestral contribution
from the LSO and Hickox. Listen to 'The
corn was orient and immortal wheat'
where the LSO strings attain a rare
and hushed enchantment. In The Wonder,
"The skies in their magnificence" lacks
lean intimate beauty. The ECO leader's
sweetly discoursing solo in the classic
EMI version (Christopher Finzi conducting)
is matchless and the tenor, singing
with ineffably pristine control and
emotional response, is Wilfred Brown.
Brown also unerringly accents this 'panting
heart' in 'The salutation' where Langridge
lets the opportunity fall. There are
many many good things in Langridge’s
version but you forget the EMI version
at your peril.
Piers Lane's lovingly
done Eclogue, with oboist-turned-conductor,
Nicholas Daniel, is taken a mite too
fast fully to register its placid pastoral
repose. The Forlana is
one of the Five Bagatelles stylishly
arranged for orchestra by Lawrence Ashmore.
A pity we could not have had all five:
the whole set has a heart-easing melodic
content and a gleam in the eye. Even
if Emma Johnson's clarinet is recorded
very closely this is lovely playing.
The Forlana paves the way for
the Clarinet Concerto in which
Andrew Marriner is partnered by his
father Sir Neville as conductor. Their
approach is relaxed and leisurely although
Andrew’s clarinet tone is not as luxuriant
as that of Johnson (who recorded the
Concerto for ASV) or the late John Denman
whose recording of the Concerto on Lyrita
LP has never made it to CD. If the clarinet
tends towards leanness the orchestral
picture is rich - especially in the
Adagio which is, after all, marked
is not top drawer Finzi but,
let's face it, when you have caught
the bug you will want to chase down
every one of the forty opus numbered
works and beyond even if there are a
very few disappointments along the way
e.g. the desiccated Violin Concerto
('reborn' on Chandos - wonderful central
Introit but woeful outer movements)
or the song cycle, still unrecorded,
By Footpath and Style. Such a
pity that the St Cecilia Ode (it
was on the Decca British Music collection
set) or the whole of Lo the Full
Final Sacrifice could not have been
included. They were on the same 1978
Hickox/Argo LP as the Magnificat.
By contrast In
Terra Pax is prime Finzi. This
Vaughan Williamsy Christmas cantata
is snowily magical in the right hands.
Parallel works include the much underrated
RVW Oxford Elegy. Both Hickox
(Decca) and Handley (Lyrita LP) are
spot-on. David Hill is very good and
he has a superbly controlled Donald
Sweeney (we should hear more of him)
and a bell-clear Libby Crabtree to complete
the picture. The only blemish is that
the powered string orchestra entry in
part II ("Glory to God in the Highest")
lacks the punch delivered by Handley
Both the Romance
and the Nocturne plough
the turbulent sea of song already explored
in Dies Natalis and in the Clarinet
Concerto. There is a deeply satisfying
heart-comforting quality to Finzi's
invention that Bridges from Elgar and,
before Elgar, from Dvořák
and his Serenade for Strings;
even from Tchaikovsky's Serenade.
The Romance is for strings; the
Nocturne for full orchestra although
the strings always carry the burden.
The Nocturne has a symphonic
mien which is not best captured by Marriner.
This is better felt in the guiding hands
of Boult (Lyrita LP) and Hickox (EMI).
Earth and Air
and Rain has Benjamin Luxon,
in stalwart and largely unwavering voice
and with poetic intelligence fully engaged.
His admirably pliant delivery is memorable
without quite matching the staunch John
Carol Case on a Lyrita LP. He is however
stronger than his counterpart on the
Hyperion Finzi/Hardy double set. When
Luxon sings "lost Lizbie Brown" the
word "lost" is imbued with withering
pain. The Clock of the Years,
a scena around a Faustian time-travelling
love story, is ultimately despairing
in a typically Hardyian way. Luxon is
fully in touch with this. David Willison
accompanies with the same percipience
and, where called for, ebullient spirit.
Terfel in Let
Us Garlands Bring relishes the
cruel challenges of singing quietly.
His voice shows remarkable steadiness.
Word production is precise without pedantry.
He takes Come Away and Fear
No More as slowly as I can recall
them being taken by anyone. Allowing
for the lightest Cambrian burr in his
voice he recalls the voice of John Carol
Case the past glory of which is barely
hinted at in Lyrita's recording of the
orchestral version of Let Us Garlands
Bring. Terfel acts the words - just
listen to the colouration and inflection
he uses for the words: 'between the
acres of the rye.' And when he sings
"youth's a stuff will not endure"
it is done in a confiding fearful whisper.
Martineau colours and spins the piano
line to empathic perfection. In the
last line he ‘ding-a-ding-dings’ with
the very best.
Raymond McGill's notes
lay out the essential facts of Finzi's
life with economy and precision. Homer
nods only once when we are told that
Finzi set poems by Robert Hardy.
I am sure that the actor would have
been flattered but Thomas Hardy
is the correct reference. None of the
sung words are printed.
Everything here in
this set is at least acceptably played
and recorded. The songs are much much
more than that. Dies Natalis and
In Terra Pax are very good indeed.
The rest is enjoyable. Overall the set
makes a wonderful present for anyone
who has had their attention caught by
a single Finzi piece and wants to explore
further. Beyond this set I recommend
the Cello Concerto (Tim Hugh on Naxos)
and Matthew Best's Hyperion recording
of the Intimations of Immortality.
Go forth and purchase.