Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Gerald Finzi - Violin Concerto; Cello Concerto (Tasmin Little; Raphael Wallfisch)


Composer: Gerald Finzi
  1. Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 40: I. Allegro moderato
  2. Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 40: II. Andante quieto
  3. Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 40: III. Rondo: Adagio - Allegro giocoso
  4. Prelude for string orchestra, Op. 25
  5. Romance for string orchestra, Op. 11
  6. Concerto for Small Orchestra and Solo Violin: I. Allegro
  7. Concerto for Small Orchestra and Solo Violin: II. Molto sereno
  8. Concerto for Small Orchestra and Solo Violin: III. Hornpipe Rondo: Allegro risoluto

Raphael Wallfisch, cello (1-3)
Tasmin Little, violin (6-8)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley, conductor (1-3)
City of London Sinfonia
Richard Hickox, conductor (4-8)

Date: 1986 (1-3), 1999 (4-8)
Label: Chandos



Once dismissed as a minor Edwardian composer, Gerald Finzi (1901–1956) is finally acquiring the international reputation he so richly deserved. It was understandably long coming, since a large part of his oeuvre is devoted to songs. Now Finzi was a past master at this, but most of his songs are set to poems by Thomas Hardy and the like that make for difficult cultural translation. Other pieces of merit were cast in forms that are British institutions and survivals, such as the ode ( For St. Cecelia , and Intimations of Immortality ), festival anthem ( Lo, the full, final sacrifice ), and cantata (the wonderful Dies natalis ). It is therefore not surprising that the first music of Finzi to cross national boundaries and achieve popularity elsewhere were the concertos, works for piano and orchestra, and for string ensembles. These pieces have given the lie to the notion that the composer was a man of small talent. Narrow, yes; small, never.

Among his concertos, the Cello Concerto is generally considered the best. It was in any case the last, a commission for the 1955 Cheltenham Festival, by John Barbirolli, and brings to the fore a dramatic concentration and breadth that seldom appeared elsewhere in his compositions—perhaps most notably in his Grand Fantasia and Toccata for piano and orchestra. The intensity of the first movement and the leisurely majesty of the second are not matched by the finale, whose cheery demeanor seems forced to me after the grimness and depth of all that has gone before. Still, it’s a wonderful work, and a gift to modern cellists who wish to show off not merely their technical facility but also their beauty of tone and character. Finzi knew how to bring out the best in any instrument he set his sights upon.

As the Cello Concerto was among his final works, so the Violin Concerto was his earliest orchestral composition of scope, written between 1927 and 1929. Finzi’s growing dissatisfaction with its first movement was reinforced at a first performance of the final two movements under Malcolm Sargent, who, according to the composer, found the work “amateurish.” Finzi then sought the opinion of Vaughan Williams, for whom he had great admiration; the latter responded by programming the entire composition for a concert the following year. (“We’ve fixed up the Concerto for now,” he wrote, meaning that it was set for performance. “It only remains for you to write it.”) This forced Finzi to temporarily abandon his habit of setting unfinished things aside, seemingly forever in some cases, and to come up with a replacement movement. He was still unsatisfied with the result, however, and finally published the Concerto’s second movement separately. The whole deserved a better fate. While the neo-Baroque influence is strong, possibly as a result of Finzi’s friendship with Holst who was exploring a mixture of English pastoralism and counterpoint at the time, the Violin Concerto lacks nothing in the way of thematic distinction, orchestral finesse, or workmanship. The first movement counterpoint does sound stiff and somewhat grey, but the piece as a whole overflows with good things. Amateurish, indeed.

The Prelude of 1929 began life as the first movement of an uncompleted Chamber Symphony, and was entitled “The Bud, the Blossom and the Berry.” While some composers sketch out entire works before abandoning them, Finzi tended to write out entire movements, first, so that after his death these completed sections could be excerpted in several instances without loss of context. Such was the case here. The Prelude sounds a bit stiff as well to me, wearing its craft too consciously, but remains an attractive composition.

The Romance is better. It was composed a year before the Prelude , but displays more of Finzi’s mature style—a gracious warmth and ease of expression—because he revised it years later. (Like the Prelude , it was also intended for an incomplete piece, a string serenade.) The work is a miniature of quality, passionate and lyrical, with that meditative undercurrent that was never far from the music of this underrated composer.

These are all reissues. The Wallfisch/Handley version of the Cello Concerto, in particular, has been through Chandos’s recycling process numerous times. That said, this album is none the worse for it; and those who held back because of disinterest in Kenneth Leighton’s Cello Concerto (Chandos 9949) or Leighton’s Veris gratia suite (Chandos 8471—though this was composed for the Newbury Players, whom Finzi led) will be pleased to have this pairing with Finzi’s Violin Concerto, as the latter has no other current versions to its credit save its own previous release (Chandos 9888). Fortunately, violinist Tasmin Little’s sweet tone and effortless production do justice to the piece, while Hickox and the City of London Sinfonietta provide a persuasively active accompaniment. The Sinfonietta is equally fine in both the Prelude and Romance , bringing an especially expressive tone and refined dynamic range to the latter.

The Cello Concerto offers more competition. There’s an excellent performance featuring Timothy Hugh on Naxos 8.555766, slightly faster in tempo and better defined in rhythms. I prefer the warmth of the Royal Liverpool to the Northern Sinfonia slightly, however, and Handley makes rather more of the slow movement. Handley also competes with himself on Lyrita 236, a then-youthful and athletic-sounding Yo-Yo Ma his soloist. The New Philharmonia is persuasive, Ma just slightly more histrionic than Wallfisch at times. Perhaps to suit his cellist, Handley’s tempos were faster for Ma; better in the spikier first movement, less reflective in the second than the CD under review.

In short, it’s your call. You can’t go wrong with any of the three readings of the Cello Concerto, though given its budget price, you might want to consider picking up both the Naxos and this re-release—for their different interpretations, uniformly fine sound, and their other, non-repeating material.

-- Barry Brenesal, FANFARE

More reviews:


Gerald Finzi (14 July 1901 – 27 September 1956) was a British composer. He studied with Ernest Farrar, Edward Bairstow and Reginald Owen Morris. Finzi is best known as a choral composer, but also wrote in other genres. Large-scale compositions by Finzi include the cantata Dies natalis for solo voice and string orchestra, and his concertos for cello and clarinet. Thanks to both of his sons and the support of other enthusiasts, as well as the work of the Finzi Trust and the Finzi Friends, Finzi’s music enjoyed a great resurgence from the late 20th century onwards.


Tasmin Little (born 13 May 1965 in London) is an English classical violinist. She is best known and widely acclaimed as a concerto soloist, and also performs as a recitalist and chamber musician. Her first professional performance as a soloist was in 1988 with The Hallé. She made her first appearance at the BBC Proms in 1990, and has appeared regularly since. Little has been an exponent of the works of composer Frederick Delius throughout her career. She has released multiple albums, winning the Critics Award at the Classic Brit Awards in 2011 for her recording of Elgar's Violin Concerto.

Raphael Wallfisch (born 15 June 1953, London) is one of the leading English cellists of his generation. His repertory is vast, taking in 19th century staples by Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Dvorák, as well as 20th century standards by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Respighi, and Barber. Yet he has also focused much attention on works by British composers, too. Wallfisch has recorded extensively for many labels, including Chandos, Nimbus, and Naxos.


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