It’s good to see a Finzi disc in Gasparo’s catalogue.
The song cycles seem fated always to be sung by British singers
so Richard Brunner’s disc adds a welcomingly international slant
on things – 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
pianist’s playing – though the volume may be partially due to
the rather resonant acoustic at Rutgers (there’s 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 Man’s Exhortation is really splendid, though Budmouth
Dears lacks wit and a bark is no substitute for evenness. I’d
never quite appreciated the ghostly impression of Linden Lea behind
Finzi’s setting of The Sigh, but here it is unmistakably in Brunner
and Lisovich’s interpretation. Let Me Enjoy The Earth is quite
slow and reverential but In Years Defaced tends to speed up –
and is one of the less convincingly sung songs, one I think to
which Brunner doesn’t really respond favourably. He’s 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
– 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
Brunner’s forcing his tone.
I don’t want to overemphasise the operatic nature
of Brunner’s 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.