A brilliant pianist, Michael Finnissy has composed
a great deal of piano music which includes several large-scale "cycles"
such as English Country-Tunes (1977/82), Folklore
(1993/4) and The History of Photography in Sound (1996/2000)
of which I reviewed a "chapter" North American Spirituals
CD 877) some time ago. This generously filled double CD set includes
another similar large-scale work, the Verdi Transcriptions,
composed between 1972 and 1988 with revisions in 1995. Finnissy explores
Verdiís world, deconstructing and transforming Verdiís music often beyond
recognition. Though the original impetus for this was an article by
Busoni, Finnissyís approach goes much further than the Romantic opera
fantasies as devised by many late 19th Century composers.
The first six pieces of Book 1 are each an exploration of the keyboard.
From then on, melodic writing is much more in evidence, though nothing
is ever given and taken for granted. The concluding piece, both of Book
2 and of the whole cycle, is the toughest nut of the whole and also
the longest movement lasting over 25 minutes. I do not know if a scholarly
knowledge of Verdiís operas may enhance the experience derived from
repeated hearings of Finnissyís work, but I know for sure that this
is a formidable piece of music, difficult, very demanding on the performerís
and the listenerís part but it is well worth the effort.
Between 1974 and 1981, Finnissy composed seven piano
concertos, the Fourth and the Sixth being for solo piano following the
model of Alkanís Concerto for Solo Piano but reflecting
Finnissyís highly original piano writing. Piano Concerto No.4,
written in 1978 and revised in 1995, is, according to Ian Paceís words,
"the most manically virtuoso piece that Finnissy has ever written".
Indeed it uses every pianistic technique "pushing out the boundaries
of pianistic possibility". Piano Concerto No.6 (1980/1)
is yet another large-scale piece playing for over 25 minutes, but is
a quite different work than the Fourth Piano Concerto. The mood here
is eerie, containing ghostlike passages and long, almost static sections,
the latter particularly in evidence in the long coda to the piece.
The shorter works here, Snowdrift (1972)
and To & Fro (1978, rev. 1995), are by no means lighter
or easier works, but they provide some welcome contrast between the
other long, absorbing pieces.
Ian Pace, who has a long association with Finnissyís
piano music, is a dedicated and ideal performer of these complex and
taxing pieces, some of which he has first performed, but the remarkable
thing about Finnissyís piano writing is that he never writes AGAINST
the instrument, never uses any "gimmicks" common to many modern
piano works, but rather exploits the entire range of the keyboard to
the full, often with stunning results. An enterprising release from
METIER who have so far recorded a good deal of Finnissyís music and
who now plan to record Folklore and the complete History
of Photography in Sound, no less!