Wigmore Hall Live's Gerald Finley -- Julius Drake is taken from a recital given by the exciting Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley on October 18, 2007. The main part of the program consists of a selection of songs by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and the cycle War Scenes by Ned Rorem, set to poems of Walt Whitman. Then, three encores are presented; the song "Memories" of Charles Ives; Shakespeare's "Shall I Compare Thee?" as whimsically set by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara; and a light selection, Wolseley Charles' "The Green-Eyed Dragon," once a staple of the repertoire of legendary singer John Charles Thomas. Finley announces the encores himself; applause is thankfully brief and only included at the ends of cycles and each encore.
Finley is fantastic for this whole program; he's a great singer, storyteller, and his Russian is so accomplished it's enough to make a babushka begin to bluster. Finley knows what he is comfortable with in terms of repertoire, something he can project to an audience with conviction and yet pleases him to hear, as well. While he may not have the vocal depth of a Bulgarian bass in delivering the Mussorgsky, he makes up for it in his expressiveness, portraying Golenischev-Kutuzov's tragic poetry as would an actor, but never sacrificing vocal beauty for the sake of drama, even though he could. Rorem's important cycle War Scenes are also done here, if not better, than they've ever been done. Julius Drake, likewise, was in top form on this date, rendering pathos right along with Finley; just check out how gently Drake eases into Tchaikovsky's "At the ball," both setting the mood and providing a clear mark for Finley to land on. Of course, all accompanists are expected to do this, but Drake goes beyond the call of duty, even pitching in on the whistling with Finley in Ives' "Memories."
We can all be thankful to Finley and Wigmore Hall Live for recording "The Green-Eyed Dragon" and forever answering the question as to what the devil Bela Lugosi is babbling about in Edward D. Wood's masterpiece of schlock cinema, Glen or Glenda. Wigmore Hall Live's Gerald Finley -- Julius Drake is also a masterpiece (though not one like Ed Wood's!) and deserves a place in the library of anyone who cares about vocal music and great singing.