In Solitary Refinement; Classical

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 7, 2001 | Go to article overview

In Solitary Refinement; Classical


Byline: DAVID MELLOR

Gerald Finzi

Clarinet Concerto and other orchestral works Naxos *****

Thomas Hardy Songs

Hyperion (two CDs) *****

Dies Natalis HMV Classics *****

Musically, 2001 will be dominated by the centenary of Verdi's death, but a moment should be found to honour one of Britain's most fluent and engaging composers, Gerald Finzi, born in 1901.

Anyone who enjoys Vaughan Williams in pastoral mood, or appreciates the string writing of Edward Elgar, will get a great deal out of Finzi, an eager disciple of both, but also a composer of sufficient talent to produce a small but attractive body of music that is uniquely his own.

Finzi's best known orchestral work, the concerto for clarinet and strings, is eminently accessible, bright and tuneful, with a finale that is among the most engaging music ever written in these islands. Finzi worked on the piece with the pre-eminent English clarinettist of the day, Frederick Thurston, and this concerto yields nothing to any other written for the clarinet save those by Mozart.

My recommendation for those who want inexpensively to sample the joys of Finzi's radiant string and wind writing is a Naxos CD, where the soloist is the principal clarinet of the Newcastle-based Northern Sinfonia, Robert Plane.

What makes this disc so special, aside from the accomplished playing by both soloist and orchestra, are the couplings. During the Second World War, Finzi wrote half a dozen short pieces, called bagatelles, for clarinet and piano, and these have been orchestrated for clarinet and strings by Lawrence Ashmore to make a highly engaging 20-minute suite. Room is also found for the slow movement of Finzi's abortive violin concerto, and two other string pieces of undeniable eloquence: an amazing bargain at under [pounds sterling]5.

It is extraordinary how little this music reflects the sad reality of Finzi's life, apart from the stoicism and spiritual depth of some of the writing. By the time he was 18, Finzi had lost his father, his three brothers and the young teacher who inspired him, to a combination of illness and the Great War. …

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