Friday, 18 March 2016

Not Finzi for Beginners - Introit, Collon, Aurora Orchestra

This new recording of works by Gerald Finzi is not "Finzi for Beginners". Its virtues will be lost on those who don't actually know Finzi or what he stood for.  Finzi fans, though, will "get it", because it  shows how the composer's  creative legacy continues to live on. Anyone can listen to the standard versions of Finzi's work. This disc hows how Finzi inspires musicians who respond and engage with his music, extending performance possibilities. It's not for nothing that the recording was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Finzi Trust.

First surprise : the Amen from Finzi's Lo the Full,  Final Sacrifice Op 28.with no organ and no voices!  Of course nothing matches the glorious wash of colour with which Finzi gilds the word "Amen", but in Paul Mealor's orchestration for strings and alto saxophone we hear the underlying melody. Since Mealor composes mainly choral music , this is an insight.. This "Amen" sounds like a prayer.  In Mike Sheppard's orchestration of The Salutation,  Dies Natalis Op 8/5, the voice part is replaced by alto saxophone (Amy Dickson), making the listener appreciate just how magical the human voice can be. The instrument just isn't quite as flexible, but we all know the words: this is a chance to relax and savour.  In Who is Sylvia ? Sheppard substitutes horn ( Nicolas Fleury)  for voice. The line is more primitive, reminding me of the kind of horns Shakespeare might have been familiar with.  The strings extend the palette.

Most successful are the orchestrations of piano song, such as Rollicum-Rorum and To Lizbie Brown , Fear No More the Heat of the Sun and Come away, come away Death. We may lose the perfection of the originals, but we gain an understanding of how they work.  Finzi loved the poetry of James Elroy Flecker, and set his To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence in which the poet imagines his successors far into the future. It didn't matter what they did, as long as they shared his reverence for art. As I listened to this recording, the final stanza of the poem rang true:
"Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra also do "straight" Finzi - the Three Soliloquies from Love's Labour Lost, the Intrada from Dies Natalis Prelude Op 25,  Romance Op 11 , A Severn Rhapsody and a very lovely Eclogue, where Thomas Gould's violin soars evocatively over the orchestra. At the heart of this recording is Finzi's Introit in F major, Op 6 for violin and small orchestra. Gould's playing is plaintive yet very moving. An Introit is an antiphon sung by a choir as the priest approaches the altar at the beginning of the ceremony . Hence the gentle but firm processional nature of the piece and the rapture of the violin part (Thomas Gould again)  Perhaps this recording isn't "Finzi for Beginners" but it's still a good introduction for those who approach Finzi with respect. 

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