Finzi: A Young Man’s Exhortation; Till Earth Outwears; Oh Fair To See

COMPOSERS: Finzi
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Finzi
WORKS: A Young Man’s Exhortation; Till Earth Outwears; Oh Fair To See
PERFORMER: John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Iain Burnside (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570414
It’s so easy just to wallow in Finzi: the elegant, tendril-like vocal lines, the delicious harmonic scrunches, the oft-recurring ‘dying fall’ phrases. And given that kind of approach it’s just as easy to feel that a little of this sort of thing goes a long way. But really good performances like these show how much more there is to the best songs – and A Young Man’s Exhortation contains some of the very best. Anyone who thinks that Finzi is predictable should sample ‘The Comet at Yell’ham’ (No. 5), with its weird, high-floating piano harmonies, and try keeping in mind that this is an English composer writing in the 1920s.

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John Mark Ainsley’s approach to music like this suggests that he comes to Finzi without any of the usual preconceptions. What he finds here, and in so many other of these songs, is an intensely musical feeling for words that’s every bit as remarkable as Benjamin Britten’s, plus a responsiveness to poetic atmosphere that enriches the texts without adding anything superfluous.

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Ainsley and his accompanist Iain Burnside respond to these qualities as though it were second nature to them. Singing and playing are rhythmically supple and lovingly attentive to detail, but it’s never overdone: the sense of overall musical shape and the larger meaning of the poem are conveyed just as effectively. All right: Finzi can overdo the sweet languor, as in the ‘Harvest’ from Oh Fair to See, but even there Ainsley and Burnside are more than respectful. Excellent recordings too: clear, warm, and finely balanced.