Finzi: Severn Rhapsody, Nocturne / Boult, Handley, Katin
Boult is in his element – the Butterworth one, that is – in the Severn Rhapsody which was clearly written under thrall of George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad and Bridge’s Summer. Blue skies, birdsong, sunny fields, cool coppices and shaded brooks – all these breathe through the pages of this Finzi score. It remains a prentice work and although a gentle yet irresistible melancholy is there its identity is not yet strongly Finzian. That was to come … and soon. It is to be heard in the intense Nocturne which in its melodic contours - their rise and fall – is unmistakably Finzi. Years later there came the music for Love’s Labours Lost and rather than the full suite (which you can hear on Nimbus ) we have here the Three Soliloquies – peaceable children all and with a touch of the miniature Elgar about them. The Romance for strings inhabits the same world but with an even stronger and personal melodic horizon and smilingly coaxed along by Rodney Friend’s solo violin. Then comes the Prelude op.25, also for strings, which in its idyllic warmth always reminds me of Josef Suk’s Ripening. In The Fall of the Leaf we also detect another preoccupation – transience and the passing of time – a preoccupation explicitly reflected in Dies Natalis and Intimations of Immortality. The earnest sweetness of Introit for solo violin and small orchestra is touching, elegiac, fragile and plaintive – a most beautiful piece. Chandos and Tasmin Little let us hear the whole violin concerto from which this work was extracted. The flanking movements are little more than busy and are dramatically outclassed by this Introit middle movement. Eclogue in its first commercial recording has a repose equalled or exceeded in no other version. Handley and Peter Katin established the gold standard for a work that was carried the Finzi standard worldwide and propagated his musical orchards on an international stage. The Grand Fantasia and Toccata is a disconcerting diptych. Its first section opens with a momentary flourish for full orchestra which then drops away for a full six minutes while the piano explores a strongly Bachian fantasy before a majestic Purcellian re-entry enriched by grandly curvaceous themes. A Waltonian syncopation enters at 9:20 reminding us in its carefree abandon of similar writing in Intimations and recalling for me Walton’s Sinfonia Concertante. Indeed at 13:41 one can hear the rearing up of a true symphonic spirit also there in the first movement of the Cello Concerto. In his final years he intended a Symphony but it was not to be.
Lyrita’s orchestral Finzi shelves will be cleared in May 2007 when SRCD.237 appears: Let us Garlands bring; Two Milton Sonnets; Farewell to Arms; In terra Pax (Carol Case/Partridge/Manning/RPO/New Philharmonia/Handley). After that, perhaps some time in 2008, we can hope for several CDs of Finzi’s Hardy song cycles in which the pianist was Howard Ferguson, an influential Finzi champion and sympathetic editor and a composer in his own right. These were issued on LPs: SRCS 38 and 51. These versions compare extremely well with their much later Hyperion counterparts and preserve John Carol Case’s voice in better fettle than it was in his tremulously recorded Let Us Garlands Bring made in the early 1980s. The LPs were SRCS-38 Before and After Summer and Till Earth Outwears and on SRCS-51 A Young Man’s Exhortation and Earth and Air and Rain.
This is a most generously timed collection - essential Finzi in many respects. It allows the listener all the short classics but holds back from the bigger works. Among the shorter pieces all the major popular items are there: Eclogue, Introit, Romance and Prelude. Intriguingly the sense of a striving for major ambitious statements is also present. It can be sensed in the Grand Fantasia and Toccata not only in its final uproarious Waltonian vivacity but also in the Bachian gravitas of the Grand Fantasia. It can also be glimpsed in part-achieved major statements such as the chamber symphony The Bud, The Blossom and The Berry of which Prelude and The Fall of the Leaf as movements.
The readable and enriching notes are by the eminent Finzi authority and biographer Diana McVeagh. They are in English only as is true of all the Lyrita releases.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: SRCD239
Composer: Gerald Finzi
Conductor: Sir Adrian Boult, Vernon Handley
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra
Performer: Peter Katin, Rodney Friend