ALBUM TITLE: Oh Fair to See
WORKS: Oh fair to see; Till Earth Outwears
PERFORMER: James Gilchrist (tenor), Anna Tilbrook (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 253
It’s not quite the 50th anniversary of Gerald Finzi’s death, but already the tide of fine releases of this minor master’s songs is on the increase. Last month I gave an enthusiastic five stars to Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside’s collection of Finzi’s Hardy cycles (on Naxos). But if anything this is marginally better.
James Gilchrist’s bright, ringing tenor voice is compelling from the first note, but it’s the range of expression and unaffected musicality that leave the lasting impression. Anna Tilbrook is an outstanding accompanist: discreet when necessary, but also able to make the simplest phrase or chordal progression tell without a touch of exaggeration. And they work so well together: the pause between the final verses of ‘I say, “I’ll seek her side”’ (the opening song of Oh fair to see) is beautifully judged.
Both too have a fine feeling for the rise and fall of Finzi’s seemingly improvisatory long melodies. The climactic line from ‘In years defaced’ that gives Till Earth Outwears its title is almost heartbreaking. And in the great sequence A Young Man’s Exhortation there’s a keen edge and subtly heightened sensitivity in Gilchrist’s singing that shows what the otherwise excellent Mark Padmore lacks in his recent Hyperion recording. If you don’t know Finzi and want to try a disc to see what the fuss is about, make it this one. Stephen Johnson