The Record Guide used to be the record collector’s bible in the 1950s as the judgements of its editors, Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor, came from the minds of two exceptionally intelligent musical writers.  Originally published in 1951, the aim of the book was to help the music-loving record-buyer select from the frequent duplication of repertoire.  A revised edition, running to 957 pages came out in 1955 and had its cut-off point as “towards the end of 1954”.  But this turned out to be the last edition as the flood of new long-playing records overwhelmed the authors.

Its views on Gerald Finzi (in seven lines) were shrewd but there was only one record selected for discussion – Joan Cross’s recording of Dies Natalis and her singing was judged to have been “in beautiful style” but the recording “not altogether comfortable”.  By contrast the mainstream Vaughan Williams had thirty-nine records reviewed, Elgar twenty-seven, Walton ten and Holst eight.   Finzi continued to be under represented in both the concert hall and on record for the next decade or so but Wilfred Brown’s recording of Dies Natalis with Christopher Finzi and the English Chamber Orchestra in 1963 changed the landscape.   Here was Finzi’s perfect marriage of words and music faithfully realised on LP and Wilfred Brown’s incomparable diction, the purity of his voice, his sensitivity to the text – together with the fabulous playing and recording of the ECO make this one of the most treasured of Finzi records. Also included on the CD was Holst’s Choral Fantasia and Psalm 86 conducted by Imogen Holst, so making this CD unique with son and daughter conducting their famous fathers’ works.

Surprisingly the Proms have never featured Dies Natalis, but in 1954 White Flowering Days and Let us Garlands Bring were included in the programme and since then the Clarinet Concerto (3 times), the Cello Concerto, Fall of the Leaf, and Let us Garlands Bring (twice each) and Farewell to Arms, Five Bagatelles, Grand Fantasia, Intimations of Immortality, White Flowering Days and Romance (once each) have all been played.

In 1968 Lyrita was founded and under the dedicated leadership of Richard Itter became one of the UK’s longest established and highest regarded independent classical labels.  One of the earliest releases was a historic LP that included Let us Garlands Bring, in which John Carol Case, who had sung under Finzi, was partnered by Howard Ferguson and no one knew GF’s mind better than him.  What’s more both Joy Finzi and Diana McVeagh were present at the recording session.  This was followed in the next decade by four more LPs that ensured that Finzi’s major works were readily available to a wider public, and with sympathetic artists such as Philip Langridge, Ian Partridge Vernon Handley, Adrian Boult and Richard Hickox most major works were recorded.  Particularly valued were Yo Yo Ma’s Cello Concerto, John Carol Case’s song cycles and John Denman’s Clarinet Concerto (transferred to CD in 2007). These are now all available as CDs on the Nimbus label and the company is also selling old stock of the Lyrita LPs, which are in pristine condition.

The Finzi Trust

The Finzi Trust was formed in 1969 and its far-reaching impact in furthering the music, ideals and work of Gerald Finzi has had a real impact in its relatively short life. It has assisted individuals and organisations in a variety of ways and many projects have encouraged young artists and composers.  But Finzi has not been the only composer to feature in its recording projects, as Michael Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Howard Ferguson, Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells, Kenneth Leighton, Malcolm Lipkin, Herbert Sumsion, Elizabeth Poston, William Walton and Percy Whitlock have also been featured.  The Trust’s re-publication of out-of-print scores has been a particularly valuable role.

The Hyperion label, founded by Ted Perry and now run by his son Simon, was supported by the Trust and its superb double CD made in 1989 by Stephen Varcoe, Martin Hill and Clifford Benson of the song cycles was probably the most influential and set the standard for this repertoire.  The company issued many other CDs featuring artists such as Matthew Best, Lynne Dawson, James Gilchrist, Thea King, Philip Langridge, Christopher Maltman, Malcolm Martineau, John Mark Ainsley, Mark Padmore, Ian Partridge, Stephen Roberts, Anna Tilbrook, Roger Vignoles and Raphael Wallfisch which have all added to the richness of Finzi repertoire available.

Chandos Records, which was founded by Brian Couzens ten years before Hyperion, has also recorded most of the major works but issues of the Violin Concerto (Tasmin Little), Cello Concerto (Raphael Wallfisch), Requiem da Camera (City of London Sinfonia and Richard Hickox), Farewell to Arms (Martyn Hill, City of London Sinfonia and Richard Hickox), Choral Works (Finzi Singers and Paul Spicer) and the Clarinet Concerto (Michael Collins) have been particularly valued.

A unique CD was issued last year by MDG (supported by the Trust) entitled Diabelleries & Five Bagatelles in which the Cologne Chamber Soloists play Finzi’s chamber music.  It includes the world premiere recording of Diabelleries, a stunning mid-twentieth century composite initiated by Vaughan Williams which features eight British composers – Lutyens, Maconchy, Bush, Rawsthorne, Grace Williams, Ferguson, Jacob and Finzi. Each was asked to write a variation on “Oh!, where’s my little basket gone?”, the theme being attributed to Alfred Scott-Gatty.  Also included on the disc are Elegy, Romance for String Quartet, Introit for violin and piano, Prelude for string orchestra and Interlude for oboe and string quartet, which Tom Owen plays delightfully. Arrangements for Romance and Bagatelles were made by Christian Alexander and Introit by Howard Ferguson.

To commemorate the 60th Anniversary of Gerald Finzi’s passing, Decca Classics and the Finzi Trust have collaborated on a special album, Introit, the aim of which is to find a wider audience for Finzi’s lyrical music. Popular vocal works are re-imagined and performed by Amy Dickson on the saxophone, Thomas Gould on violin, Tom Poster on piano and Nicolas Fleury on horn. The Aurora Orchestra and Nicholas Collon play the arrangements which have been specially commissioned by the Trust from craftsmen such as Paul Mealor.  This record has received a mixed reception in the musical press, though many have felt that it is an admirable initiative which will increase the awareness of Gerald Finzi and his music.

The Clarinet Concerto

The Clarinet Concerto is a puzzling example of Finzi’s compositions being slow to become well known, as it is one of his most approachable works although its premiere was given by the eminent clarinettist Frederick Thurston in 1949.  The first recording was not made until twenty-eight years later when John Denman was the soloist and he was followed by a succesion of clarintettists – the most notable being Thea King (1979), Alan Hacker (1979), Richard Stolzman (1990), Emma Johnson (1991), Robert Plane (1995), Andrew Marriner (1996), Margaret Donaghue (1997), James Campbell (1999), David Campbell (2008), Sarah Williamson (2009) and Michael Collins (2012). Michael Collins had played it in the woodwind final of the first BBC Young Musicians Competition in 1978 and in those days the coverage of this competition was wider so reached a large television audience.

Naxos – a Wider Audience

Robert Plane’s version on Naxos in 1995 – retailing at £5.00 – was very influential as it sold 10,000 copies in its first year and so encouraged the company to record other major Finzi works.  The Cello Concerto (Tim Hugh) and a CD of Choral Works (Christopher Robinson and St John’s College Cambridge) followed in 2001, I said to Love, Let us Garlands Bring and Before and After Summer (Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside) in 2004, Intimations of Immortality (James Gilchrist, David Hill and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) in 2005, Earth and Air and Rain, To a Poet and By Footpath and Stile (Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside) in 2005, A Young Man’s Exhortation, Till Earth Outwears and Oh Fair to See (John Mark Ainsley and Iain Burnside) in 2006 and Dies Natalis (James Gilchrist, David Hill and BSO) in 2007.   Finally to mark the sixtieth anniversary of GF’s death a handsome box set of all eight CDs has been produced to retail at £30.  One of the strengths of Naxos Records is that it created its own distribution network and this has been so successful worldwide that other independent labels began to use these services also. Many of these CDs were played on Classic FM and both the Bagatelles and Eclogue have featured on its annual “Hall of Fame”.

A View from the Sales Stall

Looking at the programmes of the Finzi Trust’s Weekends in Ellesmere, Oxford and Radley one is amazed at the ambition and breadth of the programming and the same could be said for the Friends’ Ludlow Weekends of Song, an event inaugurated in 2001 to celebrate the centenary of Finzi’s birth.   I had taken over the Sales Stall from Keith Parker in 1995 but apart from selling Stephen Banfield’s excellent biography (published in 1997) it was a low key affair.  However with so many performances arranged in the centenary year the stock of CDs was built up and I travelled the country to fly our flag at most places where Finzi was being played.  It was a tíme when people were building up their CD collection and sales were invariably good – especially when a specific work was being played by an artist who had recorded the work. 

So concerts that included Raphael Wallfisch playing the Cello Concerto generated £800 in Harrogate, £1,500 in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, £381 in Newbury and £1,790 at the Three Choirs in Gloucester.  Other places visited  – Warwick, Reading, Lichfield, Kendal, Buxton, Wigmore Hall, the Barbican, Luton (twice), Ripon and a Making Music Workshop in Bromsgrove – generated over £5,000.   There were so many at the  Ludlow Weekend who had never seen the records and books on the Sales Stall before that they spent very freely and £3,943 was taken.  Most of the venues were generous in letting us set up our stall in the foyer and only a few asked for 10% of the takings.=

Diana McVeagh, after establishing her credentials with a seminal biography of Elgar in 1955, has been a benign and invaluable influence during these sixty years and her friendship with Joy Finzi gave her 2005 biography, which members bought in large numbers, a special authority.  In succeeding years taking the stall to the Three Choirs Finzi Friends’ lunch continued to be productive.  In 2006 Howard Wong’s enterprising Finzi Festivals in Nottingham and Canterbury boosted takings further.  Howard Wong himself had made a CD (A Song Outlasts a Dynasty) of all the baritone song cycles and this was a steady seller.  Ashmansworth, Paul Spicer’s Choral Experience in Dore Abbey, a John Rutter Workshop, Celebrating English Song, Finzi Friends’ events at Oxford, Tardebigge, Northampton, Chester and Gloucester all kept the bandwagon rolling.   The four triennial Ludlow Weekends continued to be very profitable and to date the total taken since 2001 is a staggering £65,540.  We reckon to make a mark up of about 20% (dealers mostly give us 33%) so are able to sell goods at well below the average retail price.

In recent years the decline of interest in the CD and classical music in general, fewer special events and a less active membership have all contributed to a decline in sales but in spite of the rise of “downloading” the CD refuses to die and gloomy predictions have been confounded.

Over the years the best seller has undoubtedly been Wilfred Brown’s Dies Natalis on the EMI label and although it was deleted in 2007 it can still be bought at inflated prices on the internet.  Hyperion’s best sellers have been War Embers, Earth and Air and Rain, and Songs by Finzi and Friends. Chandos most popular discs have been Raphael Wallfisch playing the Cello Concerto and Choral Works sung by the Finzi Singers under Paul Spicer. As the Naxos series were issued these took over as Finzi best sellers because of the very favourable price and excellent quality of artists and recording.

When Joy Finzi founded the Finzi Trust in 1969 (to be joined later by her young friends Robert Gower, Andrew Burn and Paul Spicer) little can they have anticipated that Gerald’s music would have been so widely played as it is today.