A sophisticated songsmith who painstakingly embedded his music deep into the many and varied meanings of the poetry he chose to set, Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), whose centenary was celebrated on the 14th July last year, is now becoming recognized as a master of English songwriting.
His emergence from relative obscurity in the latter 20th century is due in no small part to the constant advocacy of no more than a handful of arists, perhaps most notably baritone David Wilson-Johnson and his accompanist David Owen Norris. Wilson-Johnson has been singing Finzi's miniature masterpieces before the public for more than a quarter of a century, and on listening to GMN's celebratory new CD release, it's more than obvious that these songs are as dear and well-known to him as old friends.
|The Too Short Time - a collection of songs by Gerald Finzi
The first song on the disc, To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence sums up Finzi's philosophy that 'art may speak across the ages quietly and privately, or be obscured by chance, but represents truth and continuity more than any other sum of human achievement.'* On Parent Knees is a beautiful, brief offering, covering life and death in a little over a minute-and-a half. Surely a record!
Reflective and introspective by nature, Finzi's sophisticated response to the text is always a joy to the ear. Listen to the music laugh and sigh as it follows the storytelling in To Lizbie Brown. And it's not all gentle English hills and dales here either. Rollicum-rorum is, as the name suggests, a rollicking, beer-barrell of a song with lyrics as sharp as they are witty:
"When Lawyers strive to heal a breach
And Parsons practise what they preach...
When Husbands with their Wives agree,
And maids won't wed from modesty,
Then Boney he'll come pouncing down,
And march his men on London Town..."
(Boney is the 19th Century's boogeyman, Napoleon Bonaparte)
But, let David Wilson-Johnson, whose charismatic presence and character resonate through every song on the disc, have the final say:
"Finzi allows the texts he chooses to speak clearly and directly, and as a performer, that is all one asks of a composer. In the thirty years since I began singing his songs, Finzi, like good wine, has improved with age and he is now popular far beyond the narrow confines of his native country. I am happy to celebrate with our GMN worldwide audience this fine composer...Hear the poems, admire the music, enjoy the performances and spread the word..."
Listen to the three complete song-cycles on David Wilson-Johnson's CD:
To a Poet Op.13a
Earth and Air and Rain Op.15
Before and after Summer Op.16
*Renowned Finzi expert, Stephen Banfield's notes accompany each of the three cycles.