FINZI Five Bagatelles. Diabelleries. Interlude
Although Finzi did not compose much chamber music, his innately contrapuntal style, informed by enduring fascination for the music of Bach, lends itself well to the idiom – especially when as stunningly performed as here by the Kölner Kammersolisten (and a singular instance of a continental recording of Finzi to boot). This is especially true of the two original chamber works from the 1930s, the rarely heard Interlude for oboe and string quartet, and Prelude and Fugue for string trio dedicated to that luminary of counterpoint and pedagogy, RO Morris. The Interlude is a bittersweet essay, encapsulating most of those haunting lyrical attributes of Finzi’s style (and beautifully played by Tom Owen), while the Prelude and Fugue is more astringent in its leaner texture and plaintive mood (surely the Prelude makes allusion to Warlock’s The Curlew?).
The Five Bagatelles for clarinet and solo strings lend themselves well to Christian Alexander’s instrumentation and were, as he aptly argues, surely intended for such an ensemble (Lawrence Ashmore’s arrangement for string orchestra is similarly successful – Naxos, 12/98), and the Romance is also convincing as a chamber piece (though I own to preferring its string-orchestra garb). This ‘chamber’ element is also betrayed in the two affecting violin miniatures, the Elegy and Introit (intended originally for larger works), both of which fluctuate between a post-Romantic yearning and a neo-Baroque style (which Finzi surely derived from his admiration for Parry).
The premiere recording of the little-known Diabelleries, a set of variations for larger chamber ensemble on Alfred Scott-Gatty’s theme, ‘Oh! Where’s my little basket gone?’, is most welcome and one of those fascinating phenomena where a group of contemporary composers has contributed to a single or multi-movement work. A present for Anne Macnaghten and her New Music Group (who performed it for the first time in May 1955), and a suggestion initiated by Vaughan Williams, it features nine variations by different British composers. Finzi’s ‘Forlana’, written while he was ensconsed in the composition of his Cello Concerto, is a pastoral miniature, full of his characteristic dissonances and appoggiaturas, but it contrasts markedly with the quirky waltz of Howard Ferguson, a delightful scherzo by Alan Bush, a typically acerbic neo-classical offering from Alan Rawsthorne and Elizabeth Lutyens’s ‘Canonic Interlude’ which is a lean, contrapuntal and more Webernesque essay. Machonchy’s variation manages to give the theme a passionate, not to say ironic apparel, while that of Grace Williams, the third female composer to feature in the collection, has a more mysterious, lush post-romantic air. Gordon Jacob’s finale, as one might expect, is a helter-skelter of brilliant instrumental effects replete with a hilarious quote from the coda of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture.
Given the high-quality performances on this CD, I hope the Cologne soloists will go on to do other British repertoire with the same aplomb as is shown here.