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Songs with orchestra.

This recording marks the debut of bass-baritone Gerald Finley on Finland's Ondine label, and features world premiere recordings of the orchestral versions of the famous Scottish ballad, "Annie Laurie," and the Suite on Poems by Michelangelo Buonarroti, sung here for the first time in Italian. Also included is the full orchestral version of the Six Romances on Verses by English Poets, appearing in English for the first time. Producers of this recording thought this was the premiere of the latter work in Shostakovich's 1943 orchestration and billed it as such, but then discovered a little-known 1986 recording with the Soviet conductor, Gennadi Rozhdetsvensky. Ondine has apologized for the error, and will correct it on future editions.

With his experience and interest in opera as well as the worlds oflieder and orchestral song, Finley is perfectly cast in this record-ing. The most accessible track, as might be expected, is the arrangement of "Annie Laurie," one of many arrangements by Shostakov-ich. It's of the well-known tune by Lady John Scott from 1835. Arranged by Shostakovich at the end of World War II, you would hardly guess the warm, loving and nostalgic music is from a war-weary Soviet musician. Finley gives it a relatively straight reading, allowing the simple beauty of the melody to work its magic and sometimes delving into his beautiful upper register, almost to the tenor range.

The Six Romances on Verses by English Poets also dates from the war years. The poets are Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Burns and William Shakespeare, so the title is a bit of misnomer since Burns was the famous Scottish poet and lyricist. The final song is based on the old English nursery rhyme about the King of France who marched his men to the top of the hill "and never went up again." The orchestrations are classic Shostakovich, sometimes reminiscent of the symphonies, as when the xylophone doubles the violin lines. Finley is excellent, tender and soft when required, but snarly, angry and lighthearted, too.

The Suite on Poems by Buonarroti is one of the last pieces composed by Shostakovich, sung here for the first time in the original Italian. Not knowing the Russian version, I can only surmise that the Italian brings out more of the lyrical traits. Like other late works by this composer, there is a certain dark sense of fate and obsession with death. That said, the songs are powerful, often gripping statements dealing with love, truth, separation, wrath, immortality and other topics. Once again, the clever, talented musical mind of Shostakovich comes to the fore, always with the singer front and centre, occasionally alone, and the orchestra acting as a kind of encompassing back canvas. It's the skill and talent of Finley the lie der singer that make this work so well--always with vocal colour and phrasing in mind to enhance the meaning of the texts.

Conductor Thomas Sanderling knew Shosta-kovich personally and worked with him on some of these songs. His father, Kurt, also had a close working relationship with the composer, so there is an obvious authenticity about this recording. The Helsinki Philharmonic has a burnished, rich, dark sound, perfect for this material, and the recording is luxurious but clean. Finley is always clearly heard throughout with great diction and articulation, even at the pianissimo level. Full texts with English translations are included, as well as interesting notes and an essay by Finley about singing the Michelangeli texts in Itolian. The love of Finley and Sanderling for the genius of Shostakovich is evident and makes this disc a very worthwhile and unforgettable experience.


Ondine: ODE 1233-2
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Title Annotation:Opera at home
Author:Phillips, Rick
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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