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Che fai tù? - Villanelles
The suspended harp of Babel
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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) CD 1 Before and After Summer ten songs for baritone and
piano (Op. 16 (Childhood among the ferns (1947/8?); Before
and after summer; The Self-Unseeing (1949); Overlooking
the River before (1940); Channel Firing (1940); In the
Mind's Eye; The Too Short Time (1949); Epeisodia; Amabel
(1932); He abjures love (1931)) [32:25] Till Earth Outwears seven songs for tenor and piano
Op. 19a (Let me enjoy the earth before (1936); In years defaced
(1936); The Market-Girl (1927, revised (1940); I look into
my glass (1937?); It never looks like summer here (1956);
At a lunar eclipse (1929, revised (1941); Life laughs onward
(1955)) [16:40] I said to Love six songs for baritone and piano Op.
19b (I need not go before (1936); At Middle-Field Gate in
February (1956); Two Lips (1928); In five-score summers (1956);
For life I had never cared greatly); I said to Love (1956))
Robert Tear (tenor)
Howard Ferguson (piano) CD 2 A Young Man’s Exhortation ten songs for tenor and
piano Op. 14 (A Young Man's Exhortation (1926?); Ditty (1925);
Budmouth Dears (1929); Her Temple (1927); The Comet at Yell'ham
(1927); Shortening Days (1928); The Sigh (1928); Former Beauties
(1927); Transformations (1929); The Dance Continued) [26:27] Earth and Air and Rain - ten songs for baritone and
piano Op. 15 (Summer Schemes; When I set out for Lyonesse;
Waiting Both (1929); The Phantom (1932); So I have fared
(1928); Rollicum-rorum; To Lizbie Browne; The Clock of the
Years; In a Churchyard (1932); Proud Songsters (1929/1932))
Neil Jenkins (tenor)
John Carol Case (baritone)
Howard Ferguson (piano)
rec. December 1967, Decca Studio No. 3, West Hampstead,
London (CD1); April 1970, St John’s Smith Square, London
2 discs for the price of 1
First issued on two Lyrita Recorded Edition LPs: SRCS 38
and SRCS 51 LYRITA
SRCD282 [62:41 + 56:30]
like the Lyrita recordings of Bridge’s Oration and Phantasm this
set is for true Finzi-Hardy connoisseurs and for those aching
for a nostalgia fix of the true cross.
the vinyl Jurassic age these recordings appeared on two Lyrita
LPs fifteen years after Finzi’s death. They joined a very
frugally supplied field – with only EMI/WRC’s Dies Natalis (Wilfred
Brown, 1964) in the field. Richard Itter did well to persuade
composer-pianist Howard Ferguson - who had been such a friend
both during his life and afterwards - to act as pianist.
The stature of the interpretations is high indeed.
Case may be remembered for Lyrita’s terribly tremulous Let
Us Garlands Bring (orchestral version) which warns us
against tackling such works too late in a career. However
at the stage when he recorded Before and After Summer, I
said to Love and Earth and Air and Rain he was
at that peak where sonority meets a piercing sense of word-meaning.
I do not hear this in quite the same exalted sense with the
Naxos and Hyperion competitors. Listen to the Carol Case
brings out the ecstatic lightness of heart for the words ‘Childlike
I danced in a Dream’ in The Self Unseeing. The dark
macabre of Channel Firing is well handled. The spinet
delight of Epeisodia with its relished word rhyming
and Housman pay-off has never been done as well. He finds
that devil-may-care cantilena in the callous first song of I
said to Love and romps through word-rhyming as rapturous
as that of Stephen Sondheim. Finzi pursues another idée
fixe for In Five Score Summers: a dark schadenfreude in
the anticipation of death in a very different future, “That
thy worm should be my worm, Love.” The set ends with a great
song – the one which gives the title – angular, dramatic,
defiant. Here humanity is caught shaking its puny fist at
Love and sending it into exile. “Mankind shall cease …. So
let it be” says Hardy and Finzi. This has a desperate heroic
futility which could only be embraced by a generation that
was “too old in apathy”. Carol Case’s voice was in even smoother
and better heart in 1968 for Earth and Air and Rain with
a slight edge over Benjamin
Luxon on Decca in the way he acts the words and engages
with the listener across the years. His voice can be heard
at operatic peak in The Phantom – not a tremble. Rollicum-Rorum is
out of the same syncopated stable as Budmouth Dears but
with a more sardonic edge though lacking the touching dimensions
of the Budmouth song. Operatic macabre is the idiom of the
micro-scena The Clock of the Years combining death,
time-travelling, foolhardiness and a tragically blighted
Faustian pact. It must be one of the most satisfying songs
in the baritone repertoire and Carol Case was fully the master
of its histrionic demands. All is rounded out in the great
cycle of death and renewal in Proud Songsters. There,
in spinet-cantilena, Finzi and Hardy touchingly immerse the
listener in the fact that this year’s birds were twelve months
ago only particles of “earth and air and rain”.
Jenkins is little known but when he recorded A Young Man’s
Exhortation but he delivered a masterly reading with
a voice comprehensively engaged with the essence of the music.
The piano sounds even clearer here than on the first CD.
I heard Jenkins singing Intimations of Immortality at
Bristol’s Colston Hall with the Bristol Choral Society circa
1984 and by then his voice had dried somewhat even though
his identification with the words was as complete as that
of Ian Partridge for Lyrita in 1975. Ferguson’s piano clinks
and serenades with springheel brightness in Budmouth Dears.
Finzi and Hardy rhyme with ecstatic exuberance in which Jenkins
delights. He does so again in The Sigh, a much more
stolid song. The Comet at Yell’ham is another of those
Finzi songs to plumb eternity, night and space in the same
Schoenbergian angular twinkle to be heard in Former Beauties.
Another recurrent theme is the renewal of nature through
human death. You can hear it in Transformations: “The
fair girl long ago whom I often tried to know may be entering
this rose” – lines delivered with poignant emotion and urgency.
Finzi continues the theme in the last song The dance continued,with
its words: “Now soon will come the apple, pear and plum and
hinds will sing …. Again you will fare to cider-makings rare
and junketings but I shall not be there …. And lightly dance
some triple-timed romance …and forget mischance. … and mind
not me beneath the yellowing tree for I shall mind not slumbering
peacefully.” It hits the emotional spot every time.
like John Mitchinson in Lyrita’s Ireland song collection,
Robert Tear is rather dry and strained in Till Earth Outwears.
There are times when he seems to have modelled his voice
on that of Peter Pears – an acquired taste. On the other
hand Tear finds his metier in It never looks like summer.
He also wonderingly suggests the sempiternal in At a lunar
eclipse and prophetic futuristic strength.
not perfect this set is practically unbeatable when it comes
to interpretation and true Finzian spirit … and you do get
all the words and proper notes.
Other Finzi recordings on Lyrita
Concerto, Clarinet Concerto
Labours Lost SRCD238Intimations
of Immortality SRCD239Severn
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