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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Clarinet Concerto Op. 31 (1949) [29:19]
Cello Concerto Op.40 (1956) [41:06]
John Denman (clarinet)
Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley (clarinet concerto)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley (cello concerto)
rec. 1977, 1979. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.236 [70:28]



Though the LP has long held pride of place on one's shelves how good it is to welcome the CD remastering of Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello Concerto coupled with John Denman’s lissom performance of the Clarinet Concerto. Back in the old days the Cello Concerto stood proudly alone, all forty-one minutes of it.
 
It was Yo-Yo Ma’s first recording and alerted many to the sheer bigness of Finzi’s inspiration, especially those for whom bigness in Finzi had been confined to the vocal and choral works. The power of the opening movement resides in the declamatory, decidedly non-vocalised orchestral writing and its relationship with the lingering songfulness of the cello; how the orchestra, initially cool, relents to join in the narrator-hero’s limpid beauty of utterance; how Orpheus tames the implacable beasts. And almost as surprising for those who had him pegged as a miniaturist, was the frenzy of the Brahms-leaning cadenza. But the heartbeat of the work is the rapt slow movement, one of those “ah, yes” moments one sometimes gets with Finzi when everything seems so utterly right. The pastoral-pensive writing is beautifully conveyed here – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it done better – and so too are the animating orchestral pizzicati and the verdant winds which join the cello in its journey. There’s a real narrative here, an encompassing one, faithfully and richly projected by soloist, orchestra and conductor alike. The finale is a drama of drumming pizzicati and wind solos coiling around the cello line like vines.
 
It’s precisely the vigorous vocality of the companion concerto that gives it such a sense of elation and verve. The clarinet’s mellifluous femininity immediately tames and quells the orchestra in much the same way that the Cello did in the later work.  It’s a feature of both concertos that the solo line is vested with such power of oratory that it acts as an instrument of control. Note as well the propulsive, kinetic way that Denman and Handley manoeuvre to the end of the first movement. Apposite string weight is a feature of this performance as well and the delicate solo arabesques are met by the diaphanous orchestration. There have been a number of recommendable performances of this Concerto but in its swiftness and ease this performance still earns the highest accolades.
 
This will look good on your shelves next to the Boult-Lyrita disc of Finzi miniatures on SRCD239 (see review).
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
see also reviews by Dominy Clements and Rob Barnett


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