FINZI: Intimations of Immortality; Grand Fantasia and Toccata.

FINZI: Intimations of Immortality; Grand Fantasia and Toccata. Philip Langridge, tenor; Philip Fowke, piano; Richard Hickox conducting the Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI CDC7 49913-2 [DDDJ; 60:57. Produced by Brain B. Culverhouse.

The verdict on this recent release can be expressed directly: 1) If you are fond of the choral and vocal works of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and, perhaps, Walton, but you don’t know the music of Gerald Finzi (1901-56), don’t hesitate for another minute. Combining Elgar’s nobility of utterance and Vaughan Williams’ spacious grandeur, with a touch of Walton’s exuberance, Finzi may lack their breadth and depth, but the extraordinarily poignant sensitivity with which he could reflect poetic meaning through simple diatonic melody is second to no one. (Finzi is one of those 20th-century composers who could become a household name — at least among cultured households — if he were ever given broad exposure.) 2) If you already know Finzi’s music, it should be sufficient to state that Intimations of Immortality, a 45-minute ode for tenor solo, chorus, and orchestra, based on William Wordsworth’s reflection on “the disjunction between the ecstatic Before and the disappointing After,” is probably the composer’s magnum opus, occupying him–on and off–throughout most of his adult life and encompassing most facets of his artistic personality. 3) If you already know Intimations of Immortality through the 1975 Lyrita recording (later issued by Musical Heritage Society) featuring tenor Ian Partridge, with the Guildford Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, under the direction of Vernon Handley, then be assured that, on the basis of vastly superior choral and orchestral execution, this new release represents a distinct and significant improvement. Need I say more?

The component sections of the Grand Fantasia and Toccata for piano and orchestra actually date from two separate periods. The Fantasia, which is indeed “grand,” in a sort of neo-Bach manner, was composed during the late 1920s, while the Toccata, a lively, urbane, Waltonian romp, was added in 1953. This is not one of Finzi’s more personal works, though it is certainly pleasantly effective. The performance offered here is appropriately brilliant.

While on the subject of piano and orchestra, let me lobby for a new recording of Finzi’s Eclogue, an irresistable 10-minute morsel at least as universally lovable as Mozart’s contribution to “Elvira Madigan”.