Cello Concerto; Eclogue; Nocturne (New Year Music); Grand Fantasia and Toccata
Paul Watkins (cello), Louis Lortie (piano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA 5214 (hybrid CD/SACD) 70:40 mins
In the grand sweep of things, Gerald Finzi (1901-56) might have to be classed as a relatively minor English composer, yet his thoughtful music regularly gives listeners not only pleasure, but much to chew over as well. His 37-minute Cello Concerto, begun in 1951 under the shadow of the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma (the shadow of Elgar too), is the work with most passion and ambition on this CD, with a slow movement whose lyrical phrases touch the heart.
It’s equally hard to shake off the restless baroque figurations of the Grand Fantasia and Toccata, or the unruffled Bachian calm dominating the Eclogue – both doctored remnants of an early, abandoned piano concerto. Meanwhile his Nocturne, also titled New Year Music, balances music of radiance with murky, questioning counterpoint: an intriguing mix, if not the best advert for attending Finzi’s New Year parties.
Sir Andrew Davis’s feeling for the composer’s sensitive, harmonically conservative language is abundantly clear in these vivid readings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Soloists, too, are well chosen. Not for the first time, cellist Paul Watkins proves a master of expressing powerful feelings through the prism of British reserve, vital for Finzi’s Concerto; while Louis Lortie, at the piano, effortlessly masters both poetic simplicities (in the Eclogue) and the fierce Baroque clamour needed for the Grand Fantasia. That said, neither Lortie nor Davis can make that work’s Walton-esque toccata section successfully top what came before – but the finale’s lack of conviction only underlines Finzi’s emotional sincerity and patient craftsmanship overwhelmingly displayed elsewhere. Admirers of his music can buy without hesitation.