Finzi: To a Poet; Earth and Air and Rain; Before and After Summer (excs)

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COMPOSERS: Finzi
LABELS: gmn.com
WORKS: To a Poet; Earth and Air and Rain; Before and After Summer (excs)
PERFORMER: David Wilson-Johnson (bass-baritone), David Owen Norris (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GMNC 0116 (distr. www.gmn.com)
The name of Gerald Finzi hovers everywhere in Earth and Air and Rain in this centenary year. David Wilson-Johnson’s celebratory recital is one of the year’s finest tributes to the composer who, in the first half of the 20th century, wrote more than 80 settings of the English poetry he read so avidly from his library of some 4,000 volumes.

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The title of the disc, ‘The Too Short Time’, refers to one of Finzi’s Thomas Hardy settings from his cycle Before and After Summer. And Wilson-Johnson and his pianist David Owen Norris give impassioned voice to that sense of what human beings see and fail to see in their short earthly span. Norris’s piano-playing discovers the subtext of the poems – the flight of swallows over water, the sounds and sights man might see were he not ‘looking away’. Wilson-Johnson’s firmly focused baritone brings muscle to the military menace of ‘When I set out for Lyonesse’, and an unquiet sense of Hardy-like Destiny in Finzi’s perceptively spare and numb setting of ‘The Clock of the Years’.

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Both these songs are from the Earth and Air and Rain cycle: poets other than Hardy are honoured in To a Poet which includes Finzi’s eloquent prose setting of one of Thomas Traherne’s 17th-century Centuries of Meditation. Hilary Finch