Schubert sonatas

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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
I said to love Op. 19b (Words by Thomas Hardy) [13:34]:
(I need not go [2:10]; At Middle-Field Gate in February [3:27]; Two Lips [0:56]; In Five-Score Summers (Meditation) [1:47]; For Life I had never cared greatly [2:07]; I Said to Love [3:06])
Let us Garlands Bring Op. 18 (Words by William Shakespeare) [15:02]:
(Come away, come away, death [3:30]; Who is Silvia? [1:36]; Fear no more the heat o' the Sun [5:42]; O Mistress Mine [1:42]; It was a lover and his lass [2:32])
Before and After Summer Op. 16 (Words by Thomas Hardy) [32:43]:
(Childhood among the Ferns [3:29]; Before and after Summer [2:36]; The Self-unseeing [2:54]; Overlooking the River [2:38]; Channel Firing [6:38]; In the mind's eye [1:48]; The Too Short Time [3:07]; Epeisodia [2:03]; Amabel [2:58]; He abjures Love [4:33])
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Ian Burnside (piano)
Potton Hall, Suffolk, 12-14 August 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557644 [61'19"]


I was delighted to see Naxos keeping up the excellent work with Finzi as the twelfth disc in their English Song series. Previous titles have included Holst, Britten, Warlock, Vaughan Williams and Somervell, and all have been of the highest quality – a standard that has perhaps been surpassed with this latest addition.

The disc presents three song sets - I said to love (collated as a set after Finzi’s death by Howard Ferguson and Joy and Christopher Finzi), Let us Garlands Bring and Before and After Summer. While in Let us Garlands Bring Finzi sets words by Shakespeare, the other two are all Hardy poems. Hardy was a poet with whom Finzi felt a tremendous affinity, to the extent that his copy of Hardy’s Collected Poems was clearly his "desert island" book.

It is rare to find such a flawless disc. Roderick Williams is the baritone, and is accompanied by Iain Burnside. Williams has a lovely rich, velvety tone, which becomes particularly gorgeous in the lower register, and he sings with great sensitivity to both text and music, capturing the inflexions perfectly. His enunciation is excellent, and his pacing good – listen to how naturally For Life I had never cared greatly flows. He is capable of tremendous power and punch (well exemplified in I said to love) and includes some charming word-painting in his performances – listen to how he sings the word "laughing" in Two lips.

The only song on this disc that I can in any way criticise is the dramatic and chilling Channel Firing - one of (if not the) most powerful songs Finzi ever wrote. I felt that this could have been invested with a little more passion, and that the animals - the mouse, worm and cow - could have been slightly better characterised. Similarly, I have on occasion heard the word "drooled," (describing the glebe cow) sung with greater expression.

Iain Burnside is a sympathetic and dexterous accompanist, particularly in Channel Firing, although he cannot, for me, rival David Owen Norris’s adroit and masterly accompaniment of David Wilson-Johnson on their Finzi The Too Short Time disc, sadly no longer available.

I would strongly recommend purchasing this disc. Finzi set to remarkably apt music some of (arguably) the greatest poems in the English language – if you are unfamiliar with either, you are in for both a treat and a surprise. And just as Finzi gives the words perfect musical settings, so Williams seems, if such a thing is possible, to have the knack of the perfect interpretation.

Em Marshall

see also review by Jonathan Woolf and Anne Ozorio

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