Gerald Finley / Julius Drake

Britten: Songs & Proverbs of William Blake

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Gerald Finley's collection of music for baritone by Benjamin Britten includes two songs cycles, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1965), written for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Tit for Tat, student pieces using texts by Walter de la Mare, given its premiere in 1968 by John Shirley-Quirk. There is also a generous assortment of folk song arrangements and settings of texts by Goethe, John Hughes, and Ronald Duncan. These songs testify to the range of Finley's skill; he brings to them the same interpretive thoughtfulness and insight he gives his operatic roles, and he entirely avoids the overly articulated mannerisms that frequently afflict classically trained singers when attempting music that is rooted in an earthier, folk tradition. It is one of his singular accomplishments that he demonstrates with startling clarity the extent to which the Britten art songs, for all the sophistication of their construction, are melodically rooted solidly in British folk song. The result is an album with a satisfying stylistic consistency, with no artificial demarcation between high and low art. The songs showcase the breadth of Finley's interpretive expertise, from the genuinely spooky menace of the two settings of Blake's "A Poison Tree," to the shameless silliness of "The Crocodile" and "The Deaf Woman's Courtship," and the ardor of "Lemady" and "Evening." Finley's creamy baritone is sleek but rich, and the aptness and control of his phrasing are a marvel. His tone, which he shades with infinite variety in his sensitivity to the text and music, is consistently gorgeous. He and his longtime collaborator pianist Julius Drake have a confident familiarity that makes the songs fresh with their nuanced spontaneity. Hyperion's sound is clean, clear, and lively, with a good sense of presence.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 1:21
2 2:43
3 3:29
4 5:39
Songs and Proverbs of William Blake
5 1:05
6 2:04
7 0:33
8 2:14
9 0:42
10 4:52
11 0:57
12 2:00
13 0:51
14 1:57
15 1:30
16 2:56
17 0:44
18 3:13
Tit for Tat
19 2:41
20 1:09
21 2:02
22 1:58
23 2:15
24 3:41
25 3:06
Evening, Morning, Night
26 1:45
27 1:06
28 1:53
British Folk Songs (8)
29 3:33
30 2:11
31 5:21
32 1:31
33 1:02
blue highlight denotes track pick