should be grateful to companies such as Metronome and Metier
for their continued devotion to contemporary music in the UK.
Finnissy is a fascinating figure.
Most recently I encountered a world premiere – Medea
at the Semley Music Festival (http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2004/May-Aug04/semley.htm
). Here Finnissy is attempting to
personalise Gershwin, to recontextualise
the familiar by moving the original to opposites of mood and
tempo. As Finnissy himself says, ‘surprisingly
these major changes of character can issue from very slight
alterations to harmony and rhythm,
the simpler architecture of the songs has usually been left
unchanged’. In the event, some songs are changed more than others.
each of the two sets here, there are various groupings of songs
to form subsets. Hence the first seven songs of Gershwin Arrangements
carry a dedication to John Flinders; the first four of More
Gershwin are dedicated to Joanna MacGregor.
the case of the first dedication, the songs referred to ‘document
a love affair – from tentative, if hopeful, beginnings to mournful
ending’. An interesting idea, made more interesting musically
possibly by Finnissy’ s recourse to dictation.
He took down ‘Things are looking up’ from Fred Astaire’s
recording, for example. Perhaps the final song of the initial
batch of seven is a tad self-indulgent (but who isn’t at the
end of an affair?). Here, in ‘They’re writing love songs, but
not for me’ (from Judy Garland’s recording, for her almost suicidal
take on the musical text), Finnissy
derives his accompaniment from Liszt’s La
lugubre gondola I. Actually, this song sums up Finnissy’s
take on this music. It is as if one is looking at the Gershwin
original as spatially-removed object, and one is just catching
it out of the corner of the eye. Sometimes one might look straight
at the object, in which case it comes into focus. More often,
though, it is there, omnipresent yet shrouded in another, related,
seems to have complete understanding of the score. The first
song, ‘How long has this been going on’ begins as a single line
and blossoms forth. Jazz emerges from the seeds of monody, Hodges
enjoying every second (great staccato). He seems as happy in
the sleepy second movement, or the innocuous musings of the
can’t take that away from me’ is one of the more famous songs,
and here it is instantly recognisable, heard as if in a sleazy,
smoky back-room; and all the better for it!
remainder of the songs disappoint somewhat. Perhaps I was expecting
something to happen, and it just didn’t, but after a while they
do start to merge into one another.
Finnissy says, ‘The piano writing in this cycle [i.e. More
Gershwin] is rather more exuberantly virtuosic and outgoing
than in Arrangements’. ‘Re-voicings’
and ‘contrapuntal elaborations’ are much more the order of the
day - a relief to Finnissy followers, possibly less so to Gershwinites.
‘Textures are more transparent and the colours brighter’, says
is all true. Here is a real sense of deconstruction in ‘Isn’t
it wonderful’, real playfulness in ‘Dixie Rose’, real warmth
to the harmonies of, ‘Someone believes in you’.
All in all this
is a superbly recorded and played disc that reveals just how
searching the mind of Michael Finnissy really is. Metronome state that this is Finnissy paying homage to the song transcriptions of Godowsky
and others. Finnissy does so, in his
own inimitable style. Recommended.