Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Oh Fair to See - Songs by English Composers

Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Till Earth Outwears - seven Hardy settings
Oh Fair to See - seven Hardy settings
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The House of Life - a cycle of six sonnets by D G Rossetti
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
On The Island
Donald Kaasch(tenor)/Peter Lockwood (piano)
rec Utrecht, June 2000
GLOBE GLO 5202 [70.10]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

This is Finzi's centenary year. Going by Boosey's newsletters his music is going to do very well. Let us hope that this is not a flash in 'the centenary pan.' Experience of centenary exposure for other composers suggests that, in many cases, that composer's works are then doomed to an even deeper chasm than the one their works had occupied before the centenary. I doubt that this will happen with Finzi as his work have enjoyed a steady upward gradient since the early 1970s.

I have held on to this CD for far too long. First reactions were not favourable. It is not that Kaasch or Lockwood are unsympathetic. Lockwood shapes Finzi's Only the Wanderer (track 11) with rare insight and he provides the literate and approachable booklet notes. Their interpretations show sensitivity and freshness. They have thought through both the notes and their interaction with the words. Kaasch enunciates clearly and, for a native of Denver, has not a trace of an American accent. He imbues the words with feeling reflective of their meaning. Pauses between songs and cycles are long - not too long. The 'problem' is in Kaasch's vibrato. This ripples and undulates through every sustained note. This is a matter of taste and I know that many listeners are oblivious to this as a 'problem' or relish it for the colour it brings to the singing. For me however the injected 'beat' in the sung word 'delight' in Oh Fair to See is a stark intrusion and it is worse still in Till Earth Outwears. Similar problems obtrude in the Hyperion set of the songs so it is by no means peculiar to Kaasch. Neil Jenkins is much to be preferred in Till Earth Outwears on the 1968 Lyrita LP as is the matchless Ian Partridge on the Hyperion Oh Fair to See.

The Vaughan Williams cycle is a very early work. It includes the famous Silent Noon. Love Sight sounds very much as if Vaughan Williams might well have attended one of the early performances of Bantock's Omar Khayyam indeed there is more than a whiff of the operatic about this and the other songs among the balladry, Rachmaninov (Death in Love), Schubert and Grieg echoes (Love's Minstrels). The last song Love's Last Gift is a rich setting. These are all substantial songs; none shorter than 3.11; the longest at 4.03. It would have been interesting to hear these orchestrated.

The Britten is the most 'modernistic' of the four cycles. This is typical of Britten setting Auden and if you known the gorgeous choral Hymn to Saint Cecilia then the twists and turns of this cycle will be familiar to you.

If you are more tolerant of vibrato than I am then there is nothing else to criticise on this album and much to praise. Not one for this listener.

Rob Barnett

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