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Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
A Young Man’s Exhortation Op.14 (1926-29) [29:16]
Till Earth Outwears Op.19a (1927-56) [17:29]
Oh Fair to See Op.13b (1925-56) [17:18]
John Mark Ainsley (tenor); Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, 27-28 November 2006. DDD
Programme notes in English and German. Texts in English
NAXOS 8.570414 [64:03]

This is a very thoughtful recital of Finzi songs. A Young Man’s Exhortation is that rare thing in Finzi’s output – a series of songs actually conceived from the outset as a cycle. What makes this collection so attractive in programme terms is the inclusion of two other collections which include songs possibly originally intended for A Young Man’s Exhortation. This cycle has fared well on CD. Both Martyn Hill and James Gilchrist have recorded the complete set quite beautifully. This music is very much ‘English tenor’ territory and John Mark Ainsley is among the very finest of the breed. His voice is lucid, diction always beautifully clear and the musicality and phrasing is faultless. This makes a wonderful companion to the two Finzi discs recorded by baritone Roderick Williams – both also with Iain Burnside – which represent volumes 12 and 15 of Naxos’s excellent English Song Series.
Finzi was a huge admirer of Thomas Hardy and set his words more than those of any other writer, beginning in 1921 with By Footpath and Stile and also including Before and After Summer, I Said to Love, Earth and Air and Rain and Till Earth Outwears – the last included here. A Young Man’s Exhortation is a relatively early collection. Its ten songs are all beautifully crafted, with great care being taken over the setting of the words for which Finzi felt such an affinity. The music is still early enough in Finzi’s output to show the influence of Holst and Vaughan Williams but there are some remarkable touches which are pure Finzi, such as the lush musical language of Her Temple and the spare textures and eerie harmonies in The Comet at Yell’ham.
Finzi was a notoriously slow composer and many works occupied him for a considerable number of years. The songs that formed his sets as he called them were collated over many years, slowly being grouped into suitable combinations. At the time of his death more than twenty songs remained unallocated to any groupings. Finzi's widow, son Christopher and composer Howard Ferguson divided these into four groups. Till Earth Outwears brings together seven Thomas Hardy tenor settings. One of the earliest of these is At a Lunar Eclipse, which was probably one of those originally intended for inclusion in A Young Man’s Exhortation. Two of the songs are very late pieces. Life laughs onwards dates from March 1955 and is tinged with regret, doubtless due to Finzi’s knowledge of his terminal illness. It never looks like summer here is from February 1956 and so ranks among Finzi’s very last works.
The seven songs of Oh Fair to See bring together settings of words by a variety of poets, including one more by Hardy. Again, they represent many years from Finzi’s composing career, including another possible contender for inclusion in A Young Man’s ExhortationI say ‘I’ll seek her side’.
The recording was made in the Finzi anniversary year 2006 exactly fifty years and three months after Finzi’s death. I found the balance of Ainsley’s voice and Burnside’s piano quite perfect, with enough bloom around the sound to present these lovely songs at their very best. The excellent and informative booklet notes are by possibly the Finzi expert of our times, Andrew Burn and a full set of texts for the songs is provided. For any lovers of English song, this is an indispensable disc, especially with this thoughtfully compiled programme.
Derek Warby


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