To the Wigmore Hall on Monday to see Gerald Finley and Julius Drake doing a recital of English song, finishing with RVW's Songs of Travel. They opened with seven songs from Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad, followed by Finzi's Earth and Air and Rain. The Butterworth group contained songs that I knew, but I had never heard them sung as a group before. Despite the beauty of Loveliest of Trees, I still found the last 2 in the set the most moving; The Lads in their Hundreds because of its evocation of the casual losses of war and the remarkable pre-echo of the losses of WW1, and Is my team ploughing, for similar reasons plus, of course, the rather unconscious homo-erotic elements in the last verses.
Finley has one of the most beautiful baritone voices around, but his performances were never about sheer beauty. His diction was such that you didn't need the words, even sitting at the back of the hall. And he was responsive to word and mood, sometimes his performance veered towards the over dramatic but he was never fully operatic, which was right for the mood.
The Finzi cycle sets Hardy poems, all rather understated and slightly gloomy in mood. Written between the wars, these were the most sophisticated songs of the evening, particularly in the accompaniments (finely played by Julius Drake). I can't say that Hardy is my favourite poet, but Finley made a wonderful case for these songs.
The second half contained RVW's four Fredegond Shove poems and The Songs of Travel. The Shove songs were beautifully done, but the words seem slight and to verge on sentimental. Finley worked hard but I don't think that the Watermill suits the baritone voice as much as a higher one. On the other hand the Songs of Travel were superbly done. I only wish that we had such a cycle from much later in RVW's career, after all a baritone would probably not do the four last songs. He encored one of the Finzi songs, and manage to hilariously get the words wrong. Then finally did Silent Noon. Julius Drake, in a spoken intro to this, mentioned that Finley had learned most of the programme especially for the recital - though you couldn't tell. They did not seem to be recording it for a Wigmore Hall Live CD, which is a shame.