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Sound Sample
Fear Not from In terra pax

Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Music for 'Love's Labour's Lost' for string orchestra (1946, 1952) [28:33]**
Let us Garlands bring - Five Shakespeare Songs for Baritone and String Orchestra (Come away death; Who is Sylvia?; Fear no more the heat o' the sun; O mistress mine; It was a lover and his lass) Op. 18 (1942) [14:58]†
Two Sonnets by John Milton for Tenor and small Orchestra (When I consider; How soon hath time) (1928) [8:32]*
Farewell to Arms for Tenor and small Orchestra (1940, 1926-28) [9:00]*
In terra pax (Christmas Scene) for Soprano, Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra (1954-56) [16:21]

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley **
John Carol Case (baritone)†, Ian Partridge (tenor)*
Jane Manning (soprano), John Noble (baritone),
John Alldis Choir
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. 1970s? London. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.237 [77.38]




 

It’s odd how the way in which certain musicians – usually singers, in my experience – phrase or inflect a passage of music obstinately lodges in the memory. So it is for me with a few bars in one of the pieces on this disc. Years ago, when most of the contents of this CD were issued as an LP, I heard it several times – though I never owned the record – and I’ve never been able to forget the way in which John Carol Case sang the line "Nor no witchcraft charm thee" in the song ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ in Let us Garlands bring. Actually, I can be more specific still. It’s the way he sings the word "witchcraft" that I’ve never forgotten. He adds a definite letter "h" so that the word is like a word from a sorcerer’s spell. I haven’t heard the recording in years so when the review copy arrived the disc went straight in the player and, sure enough, there it still is: my memory hadn’t been playing tricks all these years and it still strikes me as marvellously imaginative.

Other things in the performance hadn’t burned themselves into my memory in the same way and, sadly, I see why. Truth to tell, re-acquaintance with this recording proved to be something of a disappointment. For me there are two major flaws in Carol Case’s performance. For one thing the voice of this much-admired artist seems thinner, more grey, more dry than I recall it from other occasions. Secondly – and, for me, more seriously – in his desire to enunciate the words clearly he overdoes things significantly on several occasions, often breaking up the line as a result. A couple of examples will suffice. In the first song, ‘Come away, come way Death’, at the line "A thousand thousand sighs to save" the letter d at the end of each "thousand" is over-emphasised to the extent that it verges on caricature. In ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’, surely one of the very greatest of all English songs, the word "tyrants" is broken up into two very distinct syllables. Finally, in the same song, at the line "The sceptre, learning, physic must all follow this…" each comma is treated as a major event and the whole flow of the line is lost. Turn to Stephen Varcoe (Chandos, 1989) and you get a plainer, more straightforward but ultimately more natural delivery of the text. To be sure, the commas are observed at the point I’ve just mentioned but it’s done in a properly natural way that is much more convincing and much more enjoyable to hear.

In fairness, Carol Case does some good things, as you’d expect of an artist of his experience and perception. The last two songs in the cycle flow much more freely and I still find his delivery of the fourth stanza of ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ to be imaginative. I did two things to check my reactions to Carol Case’s singing. First I listened to extracts from the aforementioned Varcoe recording and also to Christopher Maltman’s version (Hyperion, 1998) conducted by Martyn Brabbins. It’s kindest to draw a veil over their account of ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’, which, at 6:24, is easily the slowest of the three performances – and sounds as if it lasts twice as long! But both of these singers sound more at ease than does Carol Case. Then I briefly listened to part of Boult’s 1968 recording of Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony. There was the John Carol Case I remembered! The voice is still produced forwardly, the words crystal clear but the sound is rounder, fuller and the clear diction is achieved without contrivance. Lyrita don’t give a recording date but I see that the recording was first published in 1979. I think I’m right in saying that Carol Case retired from the concert platform around 1976 to concentrate on a distinguished teaching career. I can only conclude that he was invited to make this recording too late in his career. A great pity.

The other baritone on show is John Noble – was ever a baritone more appropriately named? He’s the principal soloist in Finzi’s marvellously evocative In Terra Pax and he makes a strong impression. For myself I find John Shirley-Quirk incomparable on Richard Hickox’s Decca recording but Noble runs him close. There are two versions of the score. The original version (1954) was scored for an orchestra of strings, harp and suspended cymbal. Two years later Finzi made a fuller version incorporating woodwind and brass and he himself conducted the first performance of this version at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester in September 1956. It was the last music he was ever to conduct. Within weeks he was dead, having succumbed to an infection picked up while in Gloucester.

I rather prefer the 1954 version to the 1956 scoring – it’s the later version which is employed here. For much of the time the differences are not so great but the addition of brass at the two climaxes of the work makes it into a more public piece and I like the greater degree of intimacy in the 1954 score. But the performance here is a very good one. John Noble sings with a nice full tone and good imagination. The cruelly high lying passage at the very end is negotiated comfortably and, indeed, he sings the whole of that last solo – one of Finzi’s most inspired passages – beautifully. Jane Manning is good in the short soprano solo and the John Alldis Choir contributes well. Vernon Handley conducts with all the understanding and finesse that you’d expect from him – but that comment applies to everything on this CD.

And so we come to the final solo singer on this CD. I sometimes wonder if there is a singer who is more suited to Finzi’s music than Ian Partridge. We’ve already had his magnificent Lyrita recording of Intimations of Immortality - still to my mind the best recording of that work by some distance. These shorter pieces show just as much how right his plangent, sappy tones are for Finzi’s muse. Although it’s not a big voice he can deliver the climaxes when required and his ease in the upper register of his vocal compass is a decided asset. In her admirable liner note the Finzi authority, Diana McVeagh, describes the Milton Sonnets, which almost certainly date from 1928, as "powerful and sombre" in overall effect. That’s certainly how Partridge puts them across. In the first he does the dark, plaintive aspect of the opening lines most convincingly but at the words "His state is Kingly" the music becomes much more ecstatic and Partridge responds with fervour. The simple dignity with which both Finzi and Partridge invest the last line – "They also serve who only stand and wait" – is almost unbearable in its restrained intensity and eloquence. In the second sonnet Partridge again displays complete identification with the text and with the music. He builds the last six lines to a proud, elevated conclusion. Ian Partridge’s account of these two short, fine pieces is masterly.

He’s just as good in Farewell to Arms. This, too, is in two movements. The first is like an extended recitativo. The seventeenth-century words aren’t easy to put across but Partridge makes good sense of them. The second movement, an Aria, breathes the same air as the concluding section of Dies Natalis and Partridge’s account of it is beautifully poised. Mention of Dies Natalis prompts the thought that, to the best of my knowledge Ian Partridge never recorded the work. If that’s so it’s a great shame since on the evidence of what we hear in these performances and his Intimations of Immortality his could have been a recording to challenge the hegemony of the peerless Wilfred Brown.

The recording of the only non-vocal work on this disc appears for the very first time, I think. The date when it was recorded is not given, but it must be more recent than the other recordings as it’s in digital sound. Finzi’s incidental music for a radio production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is unique in his output. Originally scored for just sixteen instruments, it was written in a mere three weeks in1946. Later, in 1952, he turned the music into an orchestral suite, omitting the songs, and this suite was further revised in 1953 for another production of the play, with the addition of some fanfares and an extra movement, ‘Hunt’. It’s the 1953 score that’s recorded here. Collectors wanting to know more about the music are referred to Diana McVeagh’s biography, Gerald Finzi. His Life and Music (2005) pp 216-8, where she goes into more detail than in her note accompanying this disc.

In her book Diana McVeagh describes this music as "enchanting – Finzi’s Wand of Youth" and that verdict seems to me to be spot-on. The Introduction features stirring fanfares and a splendid, flowing tune worthy to rank beside anything in Walton’s Shakespearian film scores. The Nocturne has a gentle melancholy while the ‘Hunt’ movement’ is brilliant with a fine touch of dash about it. The sixth movement, ‘Clowns’, which quotes the tune ‘The British Grenadiers’ is merry and carefree. I loved the poignancy of the eighth movement, ‘Soliloquy II’ and the scurrying exuberance of the Finale is irresistible. This is quite delightful music and Vernon Handley directs a sparkling account of it. There is at least one other recording of the piece, conducted by William Boughton (Nimbus). I haven’t heard that but Handley’s marvellously fresh reading will do nicely for me.

Despite my disappointment over Let us Garlands Bring this is an excellent disc overall, containing some fine and completely idiomatic performances, all captured in first rate sound. It’s both essential listening and a self-recommending issue for all Finzi lovers.

John Quinn

See also review by Rob Barnett

 

 

 

 

 


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