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This review is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

THE LAST OF ENGLAND DIANA McVEAGH, Gerald Finzi: His Life and Music (Boydell Press) £25

The fiftieth anniversary of Gerald Finzi's death went surprisingly unmarked at last year's Proms; but it was hearing a Proms performance of his Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, around 1980, which persuaded me beyond doubt that here was a composer whose work I must get to know better. Luckily, a decent recording existed, by John Denman and the (then 'New') Philharmonia under Vernon Handley, and at the end of its sleevenote there's a further brief note on its author: 'Diana McVeagh is currently working on a study of Finzi's life and music.' This book has been a long time coming.

I remember looking up the Gramophone review of that LP, from which one sentence sticks in my mind: 'Finzi was the last composer to sing of the English countryside.' That's both perceptive and subtly misleading: it implicitly links him with the English lyric poets whose work he loved and wonderfully set, yet there's also a hint of the backward-looking false pastoral which unkind observers called the 'cow-pat school' of composition. However, Finzi's was always an outsider's Englishness, both qualified and intensified by his ancestral foreignness; like Siegfried Sassoon, whom Gerald and his wife Joy entertained at Ashmansworth when their friend Edmund Blunden was visiting them, he was 'a man of German and Italian descent' who had turned himself 'into a model English countryman'. The cracks showed, not only in his life but audibly in the distinctive, unsettled edginess of his orchestral writing: in ...


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