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Songs By Finzi And His Friends
Gerald FINZI (1900-1956) To a Poet, Op. 13a *; Oh fair to see, Op. 13b **.
Robin MILFORD (1903-1959) If it's ever spring again; The colours; So sweet love seemed **
Ernest FARRAR (1885-1918) O mistress mine! *
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) Sleep. Down by the salley gardens. Hawk and Buckle. *
Harry GILL (1897-1987) In Memoriam *
Ian Partridge (ten) *
Stephen Roberts (bar) **
Clifford Benson (piano)
Rec. 8-9 Feb 1981 ADD
From Hyperion LP A66015 issued September 1981
From Hyperion CD CDA66015 issued Sept 1991
Recorded in association with the Finzi Trust.
HYPERION CDH55084 [50.57]


As its playing time suggests this is a direct crib from a sequence first issued on LP. By 1981, when these sessions took place, the Finzi revival was well under weigh. The Clarinet Concerto was being played everywhere and after a sleepy start the Lyrita LPs were beginning to sell healthily.

The voice of Ian Partridge and the songs of Gerald Finzi were made for each other. In some ways he was the successor to Eric Greene (who had premiered Intimations) and Wilfred Brown. His astonishing breath control, distinctive white vibrato-less tone, feeling for the English language and communicative intelligence made him a natural Castor to Finzi's Pollux. Thank God we have him in the Lyrita LP of Intimations of Immortality (his singing of the Wordsworth words 'The moon doth with delight ...' is one of the pinnacles of musical art). I continue to search for the grail of a recording (any recording!) of Partridge in Dies Natalis.

The equivalent Hyperion LP was launched at the 1981 Finzi Weekend organised by Kerry Tombs. I remember Partridge signing copies. They sold like hot cakes from stacks unloaded by Ted Perry from the back of his car. My autographed copy is somewhere in a box under the stairs.

Ian Partridge broadcast extensively on the BBC. His voice together with that of Robert Tear (very nasal by comparison) and the sadly under-rated Gerald English along with that of baritone John Carol Case (whose later decay into vibrato was all the more distressing because of his earlier excellence) was the hallmark of the resurgent interest in British song. I do not forget that he also kept a foot in the early music camps as well - notably when singing with Pro Cantione Antiqua.

The two Finzi sets featured here were artfully assembled and ordered by Howard Ferguson whose faithful pianism distinguished the two Lyrita Finzi song set/cycle LPs on 1969-71.

Stephen Roberts is imposing with a voice grainy and darkly inclined. It is well suited to the Flecker setting To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence. He colours it in amber and jet for the de la Mare song The Birthright. June on Castle Hill is masterly Finzi with its drama ('white flags far unfurled') and its comforting ('Earth sleeps in peace') seeming either an echo of or a sketch for Channel Firing. Similarly powerful, alternating grim and troubadour style, is the Ode on Rejection of St Cecilia.

Roberts' superbly catches that mesmerising world between sleep and waking for Gurney's Sleep and the delicious regret of Down by the Salley Gardens. Gurney threw caution to the winds for the triumphant optimism and carousing swing of Hawk and Buckle. The words are by John Doyle - a pseudonym for Robert Graves the author of the Claudius and Count Belisarius novels as well as a vivid memoir of World War I in 'Goodbye To All That'.

Partridge takes the three Milfords. If it's ever spring again (Hardy) is a quickish love song pent with an uncertainty that spring and summer may never return … or that the singer will never see them. Deliciously simple is The Colours - another Hardy with a downbeat sting in its tail. This is Milford centenary year (2003) so we must hope for more recordings especially of the Violin Concerto, Prophet in the Land and The Darkling Thrush for violin and small orchestra. Ernest Farrar was killed in the Great War. His rumba style O mistress mine goes with a fine swing. The Harry Gill song sits well in this company with its understated sorrow at the loss of comrades. Where are the aching loss-filled songs of German composers. Surely they were written. Why do we not hear about them?

Oh Fair to See is a truly wonderful cycle. It has been part of my life since the 1970s BBC broadcast back in 1972 or 1973. It is masterly in its grouping and assembly (the work of Howard Ferguson) as well as in its individual word setting. Perfection is not too strong a word. We start with I say I'll seek her side - part scena; part lovelorn - well it is Hardy! Oh fair to see has about it no tragic ambivalence. This is evidently the same Cherry Tree viewed by Housman but decked in contentment not laced with knowledge of fallen blossom and winter. Time after time Finzi slips his emotional scalpel tenderly through our callous defences. Whether it is in Edmund Blunden's heart-achingly searching To Joy (the death of his baby), the brief Gurney setting of Severn Meadows (the hush just before 'Do not forget me quite' not quite as magically caught as in Partridge's 1970s BBC broadcast) or the rapturous Harvest (an ambitious and unflinching biographical traversal) icy tragedy (the same scorched cruel skies as in To a Poet!) meets pastoral ecstasy. Ferguson chose well when he made Robert Bridges' Since We Loved the last song - a song to Finzi’s wife, Joy. Its contented reflection echoes that of the Edward Shanks song As I lay in the early sun. Finzi's works have indeed 'prosper'd well'!

If you do not already have this and you are a proponent of British song then lose no time in snapping it up. Already discovered the main Hardy cycles? An enthusiast of the songs of Michael Head, Warlock, C.W. Orr and Vaughan Williams? This collection, complete with its well set back analogue hiss, is an essential addition to your collection.

Rob Barnett

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