It opens with a strong outburst from the orchestra, the bass line constantly rising to twist the harmonies in new directions. The first entry of the clarinet pays little heed to this introduction, the solo part rather preferring to move things along in a more pastoral way. Two more attempts by the strings to add tempest to the movement fail to stir the clarinet, which calms the orchestra down to a rippling accompaniment, so reminiscent of Finzi’s songs. An orchestral climax brings the movement to what was originally its final eight strongly stressed bars. After the first performance Vaughan Williams persuaded Finzi to precede these final bars with a cadenza which allows the clarinet to reflect on both the turbulent and gentle moods of the first movement.
The second movement begins quite magically with first and second violins answering each other in plaintive mood, the clarinet adding two distant cadenzas. This opening motif is taken up to form the main material of the slow movement which builds up bar by bar to the return of the main theme in all its power and full harmonic strength, The clarinet guides us through the coda, again based on the same motif, and the movement ends on a rising figure which, as it comes to rest, fades away to nothing.
The Finale begins with a jaunty eleven-bar introduction before the clarinet enters with a lilting tune in the best English folksong style. The middle part of the movement changes pulse (3/4 as opposed to the earlier 2/2 melody) and Finzi uses this change of stress to bring in gentler themes which contrast well with the earlier virtuoso clarinet writing. The first tune soon returns, however, and through his reworking of this earlier material the composer guides us by a slowing down of the tempo to the sublime re-entry of the clarinet’s first melody from the beginning of the concerto. An attempt by the strings to slip back into the folk-tune music is halted by the clarinet as it insists that the concerto ends on a series of brilliant flourishes.
from notes by Alun Francis © 1986