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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)) [13:26]
John Carol Case (baritone)
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)) [29:55]
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 (CD2). ADD
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]



Rather 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.
 
In 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.
 
Carol 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”.
 
Neil 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.
 
Rather 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.
 
Though 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.
 
Rob Barnett
 
Other Finzi recordings on Lyrita
SRCD236 Cello Concerto, Clarinet Concerto
SRCD237 Love’s Labours Lost
SRCD238 Intimations of Immortality
SRCD239 Severn Rhapsody

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