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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Earth and Air and Rain (Thomas Hardy)
(Summer Schemes [2:27]; When I set out for Lyonesse [2:17]; Waiting Both [3:43]; The Phantom [3:40]; So I Have Feared [2:39]; Rollicum Rorum [1:46]; To Lizbie Brown [4:23]; The Clock of the Years [4:54]; In A Churchyard [4:06]; Proud Songsters [3:06])
To A Poet (various)
(To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence [5:21]; On Parent Knees [1:15]; Intrada [1:26]; Birthnight [1:49]; June on castle Hill [2:07]; Ode on the Rejection of St. Cecilia [5:57])
I Said To Love (Thomas Hardy)
(I Need Not Go [1:39]; At Middle Field Gate in February [4:15]; Two Lips [0:53]; In Five Score Summers [1:47]; For Life I Had Never Cared Greatly [2:13]; I said to Love [3:16])
Howard Wong (baritone), Hein Boterberg (piano)
rec. 21-23 January 2006, De Rode Pomp, Ghent, Belgium
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Wong has long been a champion of the great English songwriter Gerald Finzi, and is one of his best exponents. Having been deeply impressed by his live performances on a number of occasions, I was delighted to encounter his disc containing Finzi’s Earth and Air and Rain, To a Poet and I Said to Love. Wong knows these songs inside out and it is obvious that he has invested a tremendous amount of emotional energy in them. He has a rich, deep, velvety voice that suits these songs well, an intuitive understanding and excellent communication of the words.

Wong brings the songs brilliantly to life – listen to his amazing characterisation - in When I set out for Lyonnesse, for example. We can hear in songs such as Waiting Both (the emphasis on the "you" in "what do you mean to do?") how Wong doesn’t just sing the notes, but absorbs the words and meanings and then pours forth the music as the song’s persona himself – again, hear the grief welling up in his heart-breaking performance of To Lizbie Brown. The whispered introduction to Clock of the Years is dramatic and effective, and this passionate and deeply chilling song is almost overwhelmingly intense - if Wong wasn’t so totally sincere, it would be over the top. Similarly, listen to the power Wong invests in Ode on the Rejection of St. Cecilia. This is singing with heart and soul.

Just to prove that he is not a total drama queen, Wong is also excellent in the livelier numbers - Rollicum Rorum, for example, where he scintillates. Hein Boterberg’s accompaniment is brilliant - listen to him in In A Churchyard and Rollicum Rorum – extremely accomplished playing despite the difficulty of the piano line.

The disc is nicely presented overall, and contains good sleeve notes from Finzi expert Diana McVeagh. Wong’s enunciation is excellent throughout – listen to the start of Ode on the Rejection of St. Cecilia - each word beautifully pronounced. He has a distinctive and sophisticated voice, and works well with the sympathetic and extremely proficient Boterberg. With singing that is confident, assured and mature, he really gets under the skin of these amazing songs, reaching an intensity that many singers can’t, or would be too embarrassed to achieve. Gripping stuff.

Em Marshall


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