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Earth And Air And Rain - Finzi: Songs / Varcoe, Benson


Release Date: 08/11/2009 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 22070   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gerald Finzi
Performer:  Stephen VarcoeClifford Benson
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



FINZI Earth and Air and Rain. 1 Till Earth outwears. 2 I said to Love. 3 A Young Man’s Exhortation. 4 Before and after Summer 5 Stephen Varcoe (bar); 1,3,5 Martyn Hill (ten); 2,4 Clifford Benson (pn) Read more class="BULLET12b">• HYPERION 22070 (2 CDs: 119:58 Text and Translation)


This material, now being offered as a Hyperion “Dyad” twofer was originally recorded in 1984 and issued on two separate, full-priced discs (66161 and 66162). Neither, as far as I can tell, was ever reviewed in these pages.


Of Italian Jewish descent, the much-admired English composer Gerald Finzi (1901–1956) was loosely allied—very loosely—with the Vaughan Williams, Holst, Bliss, Rubbra, and Howard Ferguson crowd. In the main, Finzi found his passion in setting poetry to song, having a special fondness for the verses of Thomas Hardy and later William Wordsworth. As it turned out, however, Finzi’s most lasting legacy would be two works, Dies natalis , a cantata for tenor solo and string orchestra on poems by Thomas Traherne, and a purely orchestral work, a cello concerto written in 1955.


The five song cycles on poems by Hardy, collected together in this two-disc album, range in dates from the earliest, A Young Man’s Exhortation , first performed in 1933, to the latest set of songs that was gathered together by Finzi himself, Before and after Summer , which dates from 1949. In between—1936—came Earth and Air and Rain . The two remaining cycles, Till Earth Outwears and I said to Love , the latter of which partially dates from 1956, the composer’s last year, were both groupings comprised of stand-alone songs that were arbitrarily conflated into cycles by Finzi’s executors and published after his death.


I think it’s fair to say that very few 20th-century English composers equaled and probably none surpassed Finzi when it came to setting verse in their native tongue. His musical scansion of a poem’s metrical patterns, based on vowel accents and syllabic stresses, has a peerless precision to it that causes the music to sound as if it is the poem merely heard in another dimension, as opposed to a separate and distinct medium that is layered on top of the poetry. This perfect merging into one is unfailing throughout, but let me cite the patter song, “Rollicum-rorum” from the Earth and Air and Rain cycle as just one example of Finzi’s sure ear for the word-music synthesis.


Hill and Varcoe are not really in competition with each other for top honors here; one is a tenor, the other a baritone. The range and tonal characteristics of their voices are quite different, and the cycles assigned to each singer suit those qualities beautifully. Listen to Hill’s breathtaking mezza voce floating of the words “Till earth outwears” in the song titled “In years defaced” from the Till Earth Outwears cycle. Or listen to Varcoe’s heart-piercing plea at the end of “In five-score summers” from the I said to Love cycle: “That thy worm should be my worm, Love!”


It’s hard to believe these discs originally appeared 25 years ago. If you did not acquire them then, please do so now for a guaranteed musically transformative experience.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Earth and Air and Rain, Op. 15 by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Clifford Benson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928-1932; England 
2.
Till Earth Outwears, Op. 19 by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Clifford Benson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927-1956; England 
3.
I Said to Love, Op. 19b by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Clifford Benson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
4.
A Young Man's Exhortation, Op. 14 by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Clifford Benson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926-1929; England 
5.
Before and after Summer, Op. 16 by Gerald Finzi
Performer:  Stephen Varcoe (Baritone), Clifford Benson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 

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