Finzi • Vaughan Williams
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D major; Finzi: Clarinet Concerto, Op. 31
Philharmonic Orchestra/Michael Collins (clarinet)
BIS BIS-2367 68:26 mins
This rather unusual coupling owes its existence to a world-class clarinettist who over the past ten years has also been building a career as a conductor. Michael Collins has conducted several concerto recordings, including for other soloists, but this is his first of a symphony. Vaughan Williams’s Fifth, dedicated ‘without permission’ to Sibelius, reflects both the composer’s admiration for the great Finnish symphonist and above all his life-long love for John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, manifested in the Fifth Symphony’s rich cross-references to his own opera. Yet it is the parallels between Vaughan Williams and Sibelius, rather than the pilgrim’s journey to the Celestial City, which are foregrounded in this confident, rather forthright account; the opening horn figure, written as a single phrase but articulated here as a two-note fanfare, instantly dispels the impression of a call heard from afar. So the performance proceeds, beautifully played but not quite faithful even to the letter of Vaughan Williams’s score.
Finzi’s concerto presents a striking contrast – and in a good way. The Beethoven-like vigour of its bitter opening is particularly startling after the serene ending of the Vaughan Williams, and is effectively countered by the lyricism of the soloist’s entry, which Collins gives an appropriately sentient quality. The slow movement, its opening spellbindingly rapt, is here an engrossing meditation rather than the vague ramble heard in other accounts; and the stoic quality of the upbeat finale is well captured. Altogether, this superb performance will surely persuade those listeners generally unconvinced by Finzi that he was far more than a purveyor of pastoral nostalgia.