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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
A Severn Rhapsody, Op.3 [6:14]
Nocturne (New Year Music) Op.7 [10:23]
Three Soliloquies for small orchestra (from the Suite Loves Labours Lost, Op.28) [4:33]
Romance for string orchestra, Op.11 [8:08]
Prelude for string orchestra, Op.25 [5:16]
The Fall of the Leaf, Elegy for orchestra, Op.20 [9:14]
Introit for small orchestra and solo violin, Op.6 [9:48]
Eclogue for piano and string orchestra, Op.10 [10:33]
Grand Fantasia and Toccata for piano and orchestra Op.38 [15:14]
Rodney Friend (violin)
Peter Katin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Eclogue and Fantasia)
rec. 1977/78. ADD.
Reviewed as download from press access.
LYRITA SRCD.239 [79:26]

Why am I returning to this recording fourteen years after its release, when it received three reviews at the time? Well, fourteen years is almost three times the five summers that it took Wordsworth, one of Finzi’s favourite poets, to become a changed personality, according to his poem Tintern Abbey. We all need a reminder from time to time, and I have just been reminded what an ethereal work the Eclogue is, having heard it performed on BBC Radio 3 in another recording. I hadn’t heard it for some time, and I simply had to listen again to it from this Lyrita album. It’s also a good time to remind readers that MusicWeb no longer sells Lyrita recordings, but you can obtain a 10% discount from Wyastone with the code MusicWeb10.

With several fine recordings to choose from, including Chandos CHSA5214, with Cello Concerto, Grand Fantasia, etc. (Louis Lortie, BBCSO/Sir Andrew Davis – review), and Naxos 8.555766, also with Cello Concerto, Grand Fantasia and Toccata (Peter Donhoe, Northern Sinfonia/Howard Griffiths – review), this Lyrita reissue, drawn from two LPs, remains my Desert Island choice. Only the alternative release of this performance on a highly desirable budget-price 4-CD set of British music for piano and orchestra causes me to hesitate (SRCD.2345, around 17 – review review).

That means weighing the other wonderful – often heart-wrenchingly beautiful – music on the Finzi recording against the huge bargain of all those works for piano and orchestra – and there is another equally attractive and inexpensive Lyrita collection of string concertos (SRCD.2346 – review review). I really can’t choose for you. All very well, you will say, for those who get their review copies free; I have to admit that it sometimes seems like ‘kid in the candy store’ time when so much wonderful music, new and old, is available for myself and my team of download reviewers.

If you thought that Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro was the apogee of musical beauty – as, indeed, it is, especially in the classic Barbirolli recording (Warner 9029675810, download only) – or that Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending was the only work deserving of regularly coming top or close to the top of the ClassicFM popularity chart, try this Finzi collection and you will find that those two works don’t have a monopoly on beauty. In fact, my own choice among Vaughan Williams’ output would be the Tallis Fantasia, building on some of the plainest music that the Tudor composer ever wrote to create a masterpiece, but that’s another story.

Almost everything on the Lyrita Finzi collection is deeply felt, especially in these performances. A recent Finzi collection on Decca comes nowhere close for me (4789357). I found some good things to say about that, including the version of Eclogue that Radio 3 chose to play, but overall it’s very disappointing, with vocal items reimagined for instruments – DL News 2016/4 .

Of all the music on the Lyrita recording, the Eclogue is arguably the most ethereal. Planned as the slow movement of a piano concerto, how fortunate we are that Finzi didn’t jettison it, but preserved it in its own right and gave it such an apt title. It fully deserves to endure as long as Virgil’s Eclogues. It may lack the element of reality that underlies Virgil’s rural idylls – the very first of his Eclogues contrasts the “I’m all right” countryman lounging in the shade of his favourite tree with his neighbour who is being evicted – but realism or social commentary is not the purpose of the music. And if it’s something more powerful that you would like to follow this piece, Finzi is your man with the closing Grand Fantasia and Toccata, too. Of course, being Finzi, the music never gets too ‘grand’ or takes itself too seriously, and Peter Katin and Vernon Handley with the New Philharmonia are the ideal team to being both concertante works to you.

Like Eclogue, Introit is a fragment from what was intended as a longer work, in this case a violin concerto. The complete work has been reconstructed on a Chandos recording, but even in the shorter from it’s a beautiful piece, and it receives a performance to match, with Rodney Friend as soloist; as in all the pieces up to that point, the LPO and Sir Adrian Boult are also on top form here.

What would be the best recommendation to follow this Lyrita Finzi CD? Perhaps one of the two 4-CD sets that I have mentioned, but don’t forget that Lyrita have another Finzi recording with Vernon Handley at the helm, containing his setting of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality (SRCD.238, with Hadley The Trees so high, also reissued in 2007 – Recording of the Month: review review review).

Not the least of the reasons for returning to these Lyrita recordings is the fact that I now have access to them in CD-quality lossless sound instead of the mp3 that I have heard before. (For my earlier take on SRCD.239 and several other Finzi recordings, please see June 2012/1). Mp3 inserts gaps where there are none in the music, and there are none in a lossless download, thus solving my sole grumble about SRCD.238 in January 2009. These transfers may be taken from 1970s analogue tapes, but they are very good of their kind and can bear comparison with the Chandos recording of the Eclogue, even as heard in 24-bit stereo. Does access to improved sound quality mean that I shall be returning to some more of these Lyritas? It’s quite possible.

Brian Wilson

Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ Gary Higginson ~ Jonathan Woolf (Recording of the Month)



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