I remember enjoying this music company’s disc devoted to Lionel Monckton’s shows and now it presents something just as quintessentially English, namely a disc devoted to Herman (van der) Finck. Though famed as music director of the Palace Theatre this London-born son of Dutch parents was also a prestigious recording artist and his ‘melodies’ on Columbia in the 1920s are still ubiquitous whenever one encounters a tottering pile of 78s.
He wrote over thirty shows, directing either his own Palace Theatre orchestra or that of the Drury Lane Theatre . He was also well known for his music for the Palace Girls, who were quite the thing, and also for Anna Pavlova, who gave her first British performance at the Palace theatre, and to whom Finck wrote a charming piece called Pirouette, which is performed in this disc. Finck flourished well into the 1930s dying as the decade drew to a close.
As with the companion Monckton album the cast and orchestra provides crisp pleasure. We hear right from the opener Cheero! that the small band is well attuned to the Light Music theatrical genre. This Estonian company has made repeated forays into this repertoire and is to be congratulated for doing so. Kelli Uustani sings a big hit called In the Shadows with a bright, forward, focused lyric soprano – nice rubato and clear diction too. The eminence grise of this and other enterprises is Mart Sander and he has tweaked the lyrics in a couple of cases, though since they’re not provided in the colourful booklet, one might not otherwise know. He has a personable baritone, which he employs to good effect. Both singers join together with plenty of Imperial brio for the frolics of the Music Hall-inspired Dear Old Fighting Boys.
The company’s principal soprano is Pirjo Levandi and she is very well suited to the operetta style evoked in Finck’s Venetia (from Decameron Nights ) which also hints at the composer’s close awareness of Puccini. It’s a very communicative piece of music making, with a surely forgivable slightly squally end. There is a longish ballet suite from My Lady Dragonfly which is deftly orchestrated, warmly lyric, and full of pert suggestion too. In the other big excerpt, the fourteen minutes from Decameron Nights , the orchestral suite shows the dual influence of Tchaikovsky and Elgar on Finck’s writing, but again it’s all very effective and conveyed straightforwardly and with simple means.
If you enjoy early twentieth century light orchestral music, operetta, shades of Empire, ballet warmth, and some spirited and committed, small-scale performances, then you will enjoy this album of Herman Finck’s easygoing music. It certainly deserves to stand alongside the better known Monckton.