FINZI: I Said to Love / Let Us Garlands Bring / Before and After Summer (Iain Burnside/ Roderick Williams) (Naxos: 8.557644)
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Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
I Said to Love, Op. 19b
Let Us Garlands Bring, Op. 18
Before and After Summer, Op. 16
Gerald Finzi studied with Ernest Farrar, EdwardBairstow and R.O. Morris. He came to attention withworks like the orchestral miniature A Severn Rhapsody(1923) and a song-cycle to poems by Thomas Hardy,By Footpath and Stile (1921-2). Finzi's reputationgrew during the 1930s with performances of twogroups of Hardy settings, A Young Man's Exhortation(1926-9) and Earth and Air and Rain (1928-32), andwas consolidated with the premi?¿re in 1940 of hiscantata Dies natalis (1925-39). During World War IIFinzi worked at the Ministry of War Transport andfounded a fine, mainly amateur, orchestra, theNewbury String Players. Two of his most popularworks appeared during the war, the Five Bagatelles forclarinet (1920s, 1941-3) and the Shakespeare settings,Let Us Garlands Bring (1938-40).
In the post-war years his works include the festivalanthem Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice (1946), theceremonial ode For St Cecilia (1947) and a furtherHardy song set Before and After Summer (1932-49),the Clarinet Concerto (1948-9) and Intimations ofImmortality for chorus and orchestra (late 1936-8,1949-50). Although the final years of his life werelived under the shadow of an incurable illness, hecompleted the Christmas scene In terra pax (1951-4)and his Cello Concerto (1951-5).
Song-writing is at the heart of Finzi's output andhe made a significant contribution to British twentiethcenturymusic in this genre, especially the settings ofThomas Hardy, his favourite poet, whom he set morethan any other. His volume of Hardy's CollectedPoems was a treasured possession, as he wrote to afriend: 'If I had to be cut off from everything thatwould be the one book I should choose'. He felt anempathy with Hardy's bleak fatalism, his sense oftransience, and his anger at the suffering that mankindafflicts on mankind. About Hardy he wrote tellingly: 'Ihave always loved him so much and from earliest daysresponded, not so much to an influence, as to a kinshipwith him'.
Finzi composed slowly, so that songs that formedhis sets, as he preferred to call them, were gatheredover many years, gradually being brought into suitablegroupings. Consequently at his death some two dozensongs were left complete. His friend HowardFerguson, together with Finzi's widow Joy, and eldestson Christopher, divided them into four song sets ofwhich I Said to Love brought together the remainingHardy settings for baritone. This group includes foursongs that Finzi, in a flurry of creativity, composed orcompleted during 1956, the last year of his life, withothers begun in the 1920s. Ferguson accompaniedJohn Carol Case in the first performance of the songson 27th January the following year.
Initially the setting of I Need Not Go has anonchalant air, but in the final verse the music changesmood with the realisation that the poet's beloved is, inreality, in her grave. The damp chill of a murkywinter's day is evoked by Finzi in At Middle-FieldGate in February, through an oscillating Holstianchordal sequence which underpins a dank vocal line.
Later the music warms as it responds to Hardy'srecollection of youth and love in summers long past.
Initially to light-footed music, Two Lips plays on theimage of the kiss given in ardent imagination, in realityand then finally, as the mood of poem and musicstarkly changes, in death. Finzi referred to In Five-Score Summers (which Hardy titled 1967) as a'meditation'. The poem is centred around Hardy'sutopian aspiration for a better world a century hencedespite the follies of mankind. Hardy's images in theopening verse are vividly portrayed by an animated,chromatically descending phrase. For Life I Had NeverCared Greatly is set to a purposeful, swaying gaitmirroring the image of the journeying wanderer, as wellas suggesting the dance of time. I Said to Love wasFinzi's last Hardy setting completed during the monthbefore his death. On a broad scale, it is cast like aminiature scena with many memorable melodicresponses to the words. It culminates in a dramaticpiano cadenza unlike anything else in Finzi's output, asthe poet squares up to his adversary and forecasts that'Mankind shall cease', before the music ends with anemphatic violent ending and plunging cadence.
Finzi's settings of Shakespeare, Let Us GarlandsBring, were first performed by Robert Irvin and HowardFerguson on 12th October 1942. That performancecoincided with Vaughan Williams's seventieth birthdayand Finzi dedicated the songs to him as his present. Thededicatee told him that Fear No More the Heat o' theSun was one of the loveliest songs he had ever heard.
After the concert Finzi and his wife took VaughanWilliams to lunch and as a second birthday present gavehim the largest home-grown apple ever seen.
The songs range widely in mood beginning with theresigned funeral chime of Come Away, Come Away,Death, which is contrasted by a fresh evocation of newbornlove in Who is Sylvia?. Vaughan Williams'sfavourite, Fear No More the Heat o' the Sun, is indeedthe finest of the set. As so often in Finzi's Hardysettings, it is the images of transience (the dust to whichthe 'golden lads and girls' all must come), that drewfrom him an unforgettable response, as he translates thewords into a haunting melody riven with melancholy.
The lilting metre falters just once, in a superbly judgedmoment of drama at 'No Exorciser Harm Thee', whichFinzi sets as a quasi-recitative, before a ghostly echo ofthe main melody closes the song. The genial O MistressMine, described by Finzi as a 'pleasant, light,troubadourish setting' follows, and a carefree version ofIt Was a Lover and His Lass rounds off the work.
During 1948-9 Finzi composed a number of newHardy settings, as well as revising older ones whichwere gathered under the title Before and After Summerand were first performed in a BBC broadcast on 17thOctober 1949 by Robert Irvin and Frederick Stone. Thecentral poetic image of Childhood among the ferns isthe child's oneness with nature. Finzi emphasises thiswith his evocations of the pattering raindrops andstreaming rivulets in the accompaniment of the first twoverses and the magical change of key as the sunlightbursts forth after the shower. In the title song of the set,Finzi captures the poet's sharply contrasting moods,initially buoyant and expectant, then redolent withautumnal melancholy emphasised by the slow, sad treadin the bass of the piano. Tolling chords as cold as thegrave begin The Self-Unseeing, giving way to aninvocation of Hardy's happy childhood memories in thegentle dance that follows, whilst at the beginning ofOverlooking the River, the soaring vocal line vividlyportrays the curving flight of the swallows.
At the mid-point in the set comes Channel Firing,arguably Finzi's most ambitious Hardy setting in thescale of moods the poem encompasses. It is symphonicin its relative proportions and is framed by the thunderof the guns out at sea. Within there is a fiery eruption asthe Creator rails at mankind's propensity for war, amelting consoling phrase at the words beginning ForYou Are Men, an ironic scherzando as the skeletons ofthe awakened dead muse on men's folly, and finally acoda in which, by a deft melodic line of sheer beauty,Finzi conjures Hardy's visionary images of pastdynasties.
Memories of a dead lover haunt In the Mind's Eyewith its tiny obsessive refrain in between verses thatmirrors the ever-present phantom in the poet's mind,and in the opening bars of The Too Short Time,(Hardy's title was The Best She Could), Finzieffortlessly evokes the fall of autumn leaves floatingwaywardly to earth. In Epeisodia Finzi composed a gemof a song where the verses are linked and underpinnedby a graceful accompaniment which flows in respons