We’ve been playing this collection of the work of Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) a fair amount, as it is enjoyable and relatively undemanding.
Finzi was one of the most characteristically “English” composers of his generation and while he did write some Christian texts, being an agnostic of Jewish descent he tends not to be overtly religious. It’s all pleasantly pastoral.
He’s also a little gloomy, though not oppressively so: Wikipedia reports that his tutor was killed in WWI and as a young man he suffered the loss of three of his brothers. He cheered himself up with poetry, his favourite being Thomas Hardy, a man we don’t really associate with comedy.
Finzi’s output includes nine song cycles, six of them based on the poems of Thomas Hardy, and the most enjoyable of the CDs in this collection are the songs. Earth and Air and Rain includes By Footpath and Stile, both of which are based on Hardy, with Roderick Williams, baritone. Elsewhere are settings of Shakespeare poems in Let Us Garlands Bring and more Hardy in I Said To Love (“I said to Love, / It is not now as in old days … We now know more of thee than then; / We were but weak in judgment..”) Roderick Williams sings, again accompanied by Iain Burnside on piano, while John Mark Ainsley appears on the third song cycle, again featuring Hardy’s poems and focusing on the transience of life.
There is also choral music, including Lo, The Full, Final Sacrifice and Intimations Of Immortality, and concertos for clarinet and cello, the latter composed after Finzi learned he was suffering from an incurable illness.
As said above it’s very English and has a clean simplicity; like Arvo Pärt (reviewed this week), we would imagine he was not a proud man.
This eight-CD anthology is out now on Naxos, 8.508017, though each CD is also available as a standalone purchase.
Buy the boxset here: