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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
I Said To Love Op.19b (collected 1956) [13.34]
Let Us Garlands Bring Op.18 (1938-40) [15.02]
Before and After Summer Op.16 (1932-49) [32.43]
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Iain Burnside (piano)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, August 2004
NAXOS 8.557644 [61.19]


Cannily selected as an hour-long recital the principal competition to Williams and Burnside’s triptych of Finzi’s settings comes from Varcoe and Benson on a long established Hyperion disc. The exception is Let Us Garlands Bring, not sung by Varcoe and Benson but which Terfel has contributed in two different recordings, one for Decca and the other for DG. The orchestrated setting of the same cycle has been recorded by Christopher Maltman for Hyperion - though that is less of a direct comparison than the two Terfels.

I have to admit a certain amount of surprise that the current discography is so sparse in respect of I Said To Love and Before and After Summer. The former is particularly attractive lyrically whilst the latter, if uneven, offers one of Finzi’s biggest and most powerful settings, Channel Firing. Nevertheless Williams and Burnside prove perceptive if, from time to time, reticent ambassadors. This reservation tends to apply more to Williams than Burnside; in For Life I Had Never Cared Greatly the climax is not quite dramatic or flaring enough – there’s not that sense of manly braggadocio one gets from Varcoe – and in this song, especially, one notices how Williams has a tendency to role his "R" to combustion point. The song that gives its name to the cycle I Said To Love illustrates other cultivated intimacies explored by this duo; Williams doesn’t have a stentorian voice, and he abjures interventionist colouring of the texts; the voice is lighter, tighter and more focusedly intimate than Varcoe’s; Burnside uses less pedal than Benson and the result is a subtly different kind of interpretation.

Such things matter perhaps more in the Shakespeare settings, Let Us Garlands Bring. Williams brings a smoothness and equability to these settings – straightforward, attractive, and unselfconscious. Turn to, say, John Carol Case however in his classic disc of the orchestral version of the cycle (not currently available) and we find a singer responding with constant colour and inflexion, with superfine awareness of the lyrics. I have to say I find Williams rather inert hereabouts. In Fear no more the heat o’ the sun the register change seems a mite effortful but more problematic is the relatively bland word painting; Carol Case may have sometimes painted with a broad brush but his thunder and lightning flash remain imperishable memories. A contemporary such as Terfel has inherited something of Carol Case’s rich pointing and in his recordings he’s to be preferred as well.

Before and After Summer sees this pairing consistently slower than Varcoe and Benson. I liked Burnside "guns" in Channel Firing, though Williams doesn’t lighten his voice for significant parts of the text, such as lines like "our coffins" – as Varcoe was at pains to do. In the title song however Williams’ noble straightness pays dividends even though I can’t help feel that Varcoe and Benson made more sense of the song’s structure (it can easily sound broken backed).

Much here is thoughtfully and attractively done and at its price bracket you won’t be short-changed. Burnside is invariably elucidatory but for a deeper revelation of these songs I would prefer Varcoe/Benson in the Hardy songs and Terfel in the Shakespeare.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Anne Ozorio

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