This is a choice coupling. How typical of Naxos to ring
the changes on the Finzi discography with fresh style and also with
The Finzi Cello Concerto is a work of ambition in which
the composer seems to be reaching outwards beyond accustomed bounds.
While the rondo finale is largely as gracious and jubilantly songlike
as the earlier Clarinet Concerto (also available on Naxos) the other
two movements, especially the first are struck through with the very
same 'blank misgivings' that are touched on in one of his other masterworks,
Intimations of Immortality. Had he lived was he to take a graver
direction? Would he have completed an angry and poignant symphony?
What of this performance and recording? The climaxes
which always had a tendency to a raucous grandeur are not as adroitly
handled in this recording as in the 1979 Lyrita Recorded Edition which
launched the career of Yo Yo Ma. The Lyrita LP has never been reissued
- like so much else on that label. Apart from the aggression of the
few climaxes Tim Hugh here gives a very fine and sympathetic performance
of a work borne out of its time and out of the terminal stage of Finzi's
final illness. He was able to hear from his hospital bed the BBC broadcast
of the premiere as given by the Halle with Barbirolli conducting and
Christopher Bunting as the soloist.
It is a particular pleasure that another cellist has
taken this work into his repertoire. Yo Yo Ma seems rapidly to have
dropped the work despite his outstandingly successful Lyrita recording.
Raphael Wallfisch (the champion of so many neglected cello concertos
- how about recording the John Foulds?) was left for many years to hold
the standard high for the Finzi concerto - he must have performed it
more than any other cellist. Wallfisch's attractive version coupled
with a work by Kenneth Leighton is on Chandos at full price.
The piano and orchestra works owe their existence to
Finzi's finally unconsummated struggle to write a piano concerto. The
Eclogue is the better known work of the two. Its essence is from solitude,
its spirit quiet-speaking and its mood contemplative ... even sorrowing.
It is given a sympathetic performance but the recording seems close
- overbearing for a piece that needs distance and inwardness.
The Grand Fantasia is an eccentric and loveable work.
Its hyper-modernistic Bachian Fantasy reflecting writing which also
shadows the piano parts of several of the songs is followed by the ricocheting
syncopation and bravura of the Fugue. In Peter Donohoe's hands this
becomes the grandest of grand shindigs - almost bombastic. Donohoe was
a good choice for this work. Why on earth was he dropped after the first
flush of EMI recordings in 1980s - his Tchaik 2 was phenomenal? The
latter Finzi work pairs well with another work recorded by Donohoe for
Naxos - the Walton Sinfonia Concertante itself a jazzy and vigorous
At bargain price and with high performance values this
disc merits a strong recommendation.
Terry Barfoot has also listened to this disc
Musical anniversaries are often useful
in the longer term rather than merely being indulgent short-term celebrations.
Certainly this has been the case as far as the centenary of the English
composer Gerald Finzi as concerned. For there has been a veritable explosion
of performances, and those who have hardly encountered the composer
before have had many opportunities to realise that here we have a really
Of these things this new Naxos recording
offers ample proof. No work has gained more from the centenary enthusiasm
than the Cello Concerto, which was Finzi's last major work. And a major
work it undoubtedly is, playing for a full forty minutes, on a scale
equivalent to the great concerto of Dvorak. It is surely right to mention
this music alongside the Dvorak concerto, for it is worthy of the comparison,
and fully justifies its large and ambitious scale.
There is only one other version of the
Cello Concerto, by Raphael Wallfisch on Chandos. That has recently been
repackaged with the centenary in mind, and it makes a fascinating comparison
with Tim Hugh's version. It would be too facile to say that one is better
than the other, since any great work (for such this is) is always greater
than any one performance of it. Wallfisch is the more wide ranging and
dramatic of the two, to some extent because the Chandos recording treats
him in the conventional 'concerto recording' manner, with a slightly
larger-than-life' presence. But his playing justifies the attention,
and he leads the way in a marvellous exposition of the dramatic and
expressive possibilities the music has to give.
Hugh is more reticently placed, as though
we were hearing him from towards the rear of the stalls. Nothing wrong
with that, you might think, but it does mean that some of the expressive
gestures in the solo part make less impact. The quasi-symphonic nature
of the work, as the themes develop in the close-knit yet intensely felt
context of the first movement, gains a strong focus because of the Naxos
'partnership of equals' approach, with the Northern Sinfonia playing
with the utmost commitment. Perhaps the string section is a little small
for this undoubtedly symphony-orchestra conception, but the playing
really is first rate, in music which the orchestra can hardly have known
prior to this recording session.
The slow movement is beautifully intimate,
the finale full of energy. Both Tim Hugh and his conductor, Howard Williams,
lay strong store on continuity of line, and it pays off in creating
a performance which will give immense pleasure. Thus the two available
recordings complement one another admirably, offering different visions
of the work.
Where Naxos particularly scores is in
the chosen couplings. In both his violin and piano concertante compositions,
Finzi frankly lacked the courage of his convictions, with the result
that he left behind various hybrids after abandoning the full projects.
In the case of the piano music, the result was these two separate single
movements: the Grand Fantasia and Toccata, and the Eclogue. The latter
was only discovered and performed after the composer's tragically early
death from Hodgkin's disease in 1956. It was written at the end of the
1920s and is a wonderfully tender and lyrical composition, in Finzi's
best such vein, touched with genuine pathos and melancholy. The Grand
Fantasia and Toccata, as its imposing title tells us, is quite another
matter. Its powerfully rhythmic opening shows the influence of Bach,
one of Finzi's recurring points of inspiration.
These performances by Peter Donohoe
are quite splendid. And the Naxos sound has a presence and a brilliance
which are not quite found in the recording of the Cello Concerto. Just
try the opening of the Grand Fantasia to experience a powerful gesture
captured in rich, full-toned sound, which turns to healthy and direct
vigour once the lively Toccata gets under way. There is no question
that this very interesting compilation adds much to our knowledge of
this wonderful composer.