Thursday, 23 July 2009

Other Englishmen Finzi Elgar Moeran Proms 9 2009

Gorgeous as the Cambridge choral tradition is, there's more to British music. Thus Prom 9 balances Prom 8 with the music of other British composers. Moeran, Finzi and even Elgar were outsiders, who didn't belong to the Establishment but created their own, distinctive identities.

Gerald Finzi has fascinated me for years. Ostensibly, he's the most "English" of composers - look at him with a pipe and tweeds in the Cotswolds in 1925. He looks like he's rooted, yet he's only 24, a Londoner on holiday, discovering yoghurt and Bohemian living for the first time.

Finzi eptomized the "English Gentleman" with his self-effacing diffidence which belied an encyclopaedic knowledge of 17th century poetry and passionate dedication to causes, like Ivor Gurney, apple growing and music in performance. He founded the once great Newbury festival, and used to drive an ancient car to the Three Choirs Festival and to the Royal Albert Hall. Read Stephen Banfield's biography and Diane McVeagh's. Look at the label "Finzi" on the list at right for more, like a description of Intimations of Immortality, another Finzi masterpiece.

Finzi's sometimes disparaged as a miniaturist, though his "miniatures" like Dies natalis are more powerful than many composer's symphonies. So it's good that his Grand fantasia and Toccata is given a high profile Proms appearance. Tonight's performance, with Leon McCauley and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vassily Sinaisky was very spirited, full of vigour. I enjoyed Moeran, but then I usually do, but was blown away by hearing Finzi in the Royal Albert Hall. So much so that I'm itching to hear it on repeat broadcast. In the meantime I'll dig out a recording. There are several, all OK but not outstanding. This is a work that begs for excellence: it deserves to be heard more frequently and performed with the suppressed passion that's so Finzi.

Charles Villiers Stanford was too careful to knock Elgar in public but kicked up a storm when Elgar's Symphony no 2 got more rehearsal time at an important concert than one of his own works. It figures, Elgar's work was  the better work! This symphony is so familiar that there are lots of favourite performances. Sakari Oramo conducted it with the City of Birmingham Symphony as part of the Elgar celebrations. They take their Elgar seriously in those circles, so I was worried if Oramo's dynamic approach would upset traditionalists ("It wasn't done like that when I was a lad"). But it was inspiring, the darker aspects in sharp focus, no toning down and very well received. Not so Sinaisky. Maybe it was just me, still reeling from Finzi, but Sinaisky's Elgar was a bit too restrained, pleasant enough but without the fire and fangs buried deep within.

Tomorrow: Takemitsu, Ravel and Debussy. This will be one of my "must hear" concerts so I'll be writing at length. Later I'll post a review of the London Sinfonietta recording of Arc and Green. Google "takemitsu green arc". This is the essential recording because it's good, and was made with Takemitsu in attendance. Oliver Knussen conducts. This is a historic moment in the Sinfonietta's history, a "must" for their admirers. Takemitsu isn't nearly as well known as he should be, so it's worth having a listen and reading up.

1 comment:

Juliet said...

I enjoyed this concert more than I expected, I mostly agree re the Elgar but really enjoyed the Moeran.