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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Finzi - A Centenary Collection
for Piano and Strings (1956) [10:01]
Music for Love's Labour's Lost (1955) [27:08]
(Introduction; Moth; Nocturne; The Hunt; Dance; Quodlibet; Soliloquy I-III; Finale)
Clarinet Concerto (1949) [25:36]
Prelude for String Orchestra (1923) [5.03]
Romance for String Orchestra (1920s) [7.03]
Martin Jones (piano)
Alan Hacker (clarinet)
English String Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. Great Hall, University of Birmingham, June 1992 (Eclogue); August 1987. In association with the Finzi Trust.
NIMBUS NI5665 [74:50]

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This well judged anthology has been assembled from recordings originally issued on Nimbus NI5101 (1987) and NI5366 (1993). In the real world Nimbus have basically put together all the orchestral Finzi they had so there is no representation of the voice. However letís not be too prissy about a representative sampling when so much here taps faithfully into the pastoral-spiritual pulse that is uniquely Finziís.
The disc was first issued in 2001 to mark the centenary of Finziís birth but now enjoys vigorous distribution on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the composerís death. It carries two signature works; pieces of music that with modesty but clamant mastery allowed Finziís music to wend its way into the hearts of music-lovers across the world. Little happened from the post-mortem slough into which his music had sunk until the mid-1970s. The odd song and of course the EMI-Wilfred Brown version of Dies Natalis. Then Lyrita and the Finzi Trust began to make recordings that were to build the Finzi revival. We knew things had changed when a sense of frustration that he did not write more began to produce revivals of the Violin Concerto (Chandos) Ė only a success in the middle Introit Ė and the suppressed song cycle By Footpath and Stile which turns out to be interesting rather than fully characteristic Finzi. If we can have the Elgar Piano Concerto, Symphony 3 and P&C6 then the Finzi Piano Concerto and the Symphony for Strings: The Bud, The Blossom and the Berry is not unthinkable provided the Finzi Trust will approve and can find a sensitive composer to realise these projects.
The Finzi Lyritas are now likely to appear at last on CD in 2007 but we must not forget that several companies also contributed invaluably and one of them was Nimbus. In this case we have the only recording of the suite from the incidental music to a BBC radio broadcast of Love's Labour's Lost. True, the Three Soliloquies were included on the LPO/Boult Lyrita LP (SRCS84) but here we get the largest selection Ė in fact the full suite as presented in London by Finziís friend John Russell on 26 July 1955.†
What of the performances? Boughton takes his Finzi at a placid and very well judged pace. The Eclogue has been pushed too fast on a couple of occasions notably and uncharacteristically by Piers Lane on The Decca Finzi Collection (see review). Itís a lovely relished performance without self-indulgence and with a sense of healing in its wings. The strings are not as sweet as they were with the LPO in the version by Peter Katin on Lyrita LP SRCS 92 but it may be some months before we can compare on CD.† While the ESO strings have a slightly acrid edge they are much better than good overall. The woodwind and brass are full of character and we hear this especially in the music for Love's Labour's Lost where the BBC commission led Finzi into styles he might not otherwise have tackled such as ceremonial magnificence for Introduction, Mendelssohnian chase for The Hunt and the lamb-skipping Finale. This is an ebullience also heard in† the dynamic sections of Intimations. Much of this including Moth, Nocturne, Quodlibet and the Soliloquies finds Finzi in full-throated natural voice.
We also get a fine and recommendable version of the Clarinet Concerto. Hacker is a gracious soloist who gives all the signs of being conscious of the importance of counterpointing with the tricky string writing. Even if this version does not displace my affection for the John Denman version I rate it highly. In any event this is an amazingly resilient work going by the many recordings from Plane to Stoltzman to Johnson, Marriner to King. The Nimbus technical team have wrought wonders with the ethereal writing at the start of the Adagio. In fact the strings - without being sumptuous - sound in much better heart than in the Eclogue.
The Prelude and the Romance are wistfully put across. Classic Finzi. Do not underestimate how easy it would be to sink these pieces if they were done with anything less than sensitivity and poise. Boughton has discerned the mot juste so far as pacing and dynamics are concerned.
The notes are by Andrew Burn and Diana McVeagh so we know that we are in safe hands.
Finziís modesty and mastery are to be heard in faithful reflection in this tenderly recorded single disc collection.
Rob Barnett


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