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Loewe, Schubert, Ravel & Britten

Loewe Herr Oluf; Tom der Reimer; Die wandelnde Glocke
Erlkonig; Edward
Schubert Heine settings from Schwanengesang:
Der Atlas; Ihr Bild; Das Fischermädchen
Die Stadt; Am Meer; Der Doppelgänger
Ravel Histoires naturelles
Britten Lemady; Greensleeves; I wonder as I wander
Bird Scarer’s Song; The Crocodile

Ravel Chanson à boire
Emanuel The Desert

Gerald Finley baritone; Julius Drake piano

Wigmore Hall, 14 May 2010

Gerald Finley is at the top of his game, his voice in peak condition, with stamina to deliver a punishing repertoire including two demanding encores which had the house roaring its approval. Julius Drake was his equal partner, and the two together filled the Wigmore Hall and (as heard, unusually, from the balcony instead of the regualr critics' seats below it) could have held a far larger auditorium in thrall.

The beginning and end of the cunningly built programme were sheer entertainment. Loewe's ballads exploit supernatural temptations with the frisson of grisly endings, Erlkong telling the same tale as Schubert's, the parricide Edward acted at his mother's behest. The naughty child chased by a walking church bell suggested there may be a wider range to Loewe, with possibly a CD from Finley in prospect?

To finish we had some relatively unknown folk-song settings by Britten, those being recompositions "taking the tunes as though he had written them himself and 'turning them into songs'" (Richard Stokes). A memory lapse just before the end of the tall tale of life inside a gigantic crocodile probably served to reinforce the applause...

In the middle, Schubert's Heine songs given with tremendous concentration and power, and in complete contrast Ravel's nature portraits held the audience spellbound, especially the magic of the kingfisher perched briefly on the tip of a fishing rod, "so proud to be taken for a tree".

Finley & Drake's Ravel CD (Hyperion CDA 67728) is totally desirable, represented also in the drunken encore, Chanson à boire. Finally, a riotous saved-from-death in the nick of time ballad, with vultures circling in the desert, by a composer, Emanuel, about whom I have been unable to discover anything?

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. Received the following week (newly released although recorded in London, 2008) is Finley & Drake's Britten disc (Hyperion CDA 67778), a marvellous hour-and-a-quarter of song ranging from re-worked juvenilia (Tit for Tat, 1968) to songs only exposed and published after the composer's death, including such gems as the crocodile tall-tale included in the recital.

The core of the collection is the Blake cycle, composed for Fischer-Dieskau, with whom Britten recorded it in 1965; an indispensible recording, apparently (temporarily ?) nla except as mp3 downloads.

Songs & Proverbs of William Blake should be in the repertoire of every baritone, its stature fully equal to that of, say, the Schubert Heine songs reviewed above in Finley/Drake's Wigmore hall recital. Undoubtedly one of Britten's very greatest works, it never became as popular as those for tenor (Peter Pears); this issue should redress the balance.