Finzi Quartet - By Footpath and Stile - Gramophone

01 August 2012
Jeremy Dibble

Although the essence of Finzi's instrumental sound lies in the lush textures of the string orchestra - as symbolised by his long association with the Newbury String Players - there is a more private chamber-music dimension to his output in works such as the early Hardy song-cycle By Footpath and Stile, Op2, and Interlude for oboe and string quartet, Op21. By Footpath and Stile of  1921-22, more modal than many of Finzi's later creations, betrays a balder deference to Vaughn Williams's On Wenlock Edge (as does the Severn Rhapsody, Op3, of 1923), especially such songs as the reflective 'Paying calls', 'Where the picnic was' and the pantheistic 'Voices from things growing in a churchyard'. In a manner comparable to Roderick Williams's fine performance with the Sacconi Quartet, Marcus Farnsworth captures the introspective melancholy of the cycle splendidly and the award winning Finzi Quartet provide an intimately measured accompaniment, full of nuance and tender hues. They also form part of an expressive ensemble with Ruth Bolister in the wistful, yet at times more extrovertly lyrical Interlude, a work of some substance.

The arrangements of the Five Bagatelles, stunningly intimate miniatures originally for piano and clarinet, are sensitively arranged here for clarinet and string quartet by Christian Alexander. They work well, and the scoring for quartet does much to heighten the neo-Baroque polyphony of Finzi's accompaniment, even if a certain percussiveness is lacking from the outer movements. Plane's readings are superb, especially in the extended lyrical movements like the 'Romance', 'Carol' and 'Forlana'. The chamber arrangements of the Romance, Op11, Elegy, OP22, and Prelude, Op25, also have an illuminating clarity, even if at times I personally miss the greater weight and sonority of the orchestra.

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