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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Song Cycles
Farewell to Arms (mid 1920s and 1944)
A Young Manís Exhortation Op.14 (1926-29)
Till Earth Outwears Op.19a (1927-56)
Oh Fair To See (1929-56)
Richard Brunner (tenor)
Laurene Lisovich (piano)
Recorded Rutgers University Camden NJ (1998?)
GASPARO GSCD 335 [72.50]


Itís good to see a Finzi disc in Gasparoís catalogue. The song cycles seem fated always to be sung by British singers so Richard Brunnerís disc adds a welcomingly international slant on things Ė and high time too. In many ways his operatic background and musical inclinations are rather more robust than his British contemporaries, say Martyn Hill. His tone sharpens to a steely core at such moments and he is quite interventionist when it comes to vocal colouration. The piano-accompanied Farewell to Arms for instance sees him harden and toughen his tone in the Aria to mirror the textual implications. I find his interpretation too restless and never quiet enough and also somewhat at variance from his pianistís playing Ė though the volume may be partially due to the rather resonant acoustic at Rutgers (thereís some negligible ambient noise as well).

So Brunner is a forceful and strong interpreter. The voice is powerful, not honeyed or in a conventional sense beautiful, but a resilient tool, well deployed, though often stretched when going up. There are numerous points of interest - the coda of A Young Manís Exhortation is really splendid, though Budmouth Dears lacks wit and a bark is no substitute for evenness. Iíd never quite appreciated the ghostly impression of Linden Lea behind Finziís setting of The Sigh, but here it is unmistakably in Brunner and Lisovichís interpretation. Let Me Enjoy The Earth is quite slow and reverential but In Years Defaced tends to speed up Ė and is one of the less convincingly sung songs, one I think to which Brunner doesnít really respond favourably. Heís iron voiced and the yielding sections sound mechanical. Brunner has an acute ear but there are times when he lacks the last ounce of characterisation Ė listen to The Market-Girl for example which is nowhere near cocksure enough. But plaudits for As I Lay In The Early Sun from Oh Fair To See which is splendidly lyric and only let down by Brunnerís forcing his tone.

I donít want to overemphasise the operatic nature of Brunnerís voice too much; this is not a case of John Vickers Sings Roger Quilter or some programming nightmare of that kind. But it is inevitably a constituent element of his approach to word setting, emphasis and over stressing as much as to vocal production. But for those who appreciate a little more pepper and less honey in their Finzi Brunner and (first class) Lisovich will prove diverting.

Jonathan Woolf


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