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Hyperion Records

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The Tyger (plate 42 from Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy AA, P.125-1950.pt42) (c1815/26) by William Blake (1757-1827)
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67778
Recording details: December 2008
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: June 2010
Total duration: 25 minutes 30 seconds

'Finley as ever acquits himself as a fine singer, a conscientious artist and a thoroughly reliable musician … Julius Drake is the superb pianist' (Gramophone)

'Fischer-Dieskau's recording from 1965 carries massive authority, but this new recording tops it … everythng [Finley] sings has a feeling of emotional truth, without any artfulness. That's a great asset in these songs … Finley makes Blake's aphorisms ring out with the force of an Old Testament prophet' (The Daily Telegraph)

'If you want to know, or simply need reminding, why Gerald Finley is up there in the Premier League of baritone recitalists then strike out for the final five songs on this magnificent new recording … [Songs and Proverbs of William Blake] originally written for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Finley proves himself the equal of his noble predecessor, both in expressivity and emotional weight. How good it is to have this difficult music available in such a fine modern performance … it is a mark of the quality of these two fine artists that everything on this new release should sound newly minted' (International Record Review)

'Gerald Finley sings them all with such an unwaveringly beautiful tone and attention to every syllable, and pianist Julian Drake is so wonderfully attuned to the baritone's inflections … Finley comes into his own in the final Every Night and Every Morn, and Drake's handling of the powerfully wrought accompaniments is superb. Those who have followed them through their series of 20th-century songs for Hyperion (Barber, Ives, Ravel previously) won't be disappointed with this one either' (The Guardian)

'The Canadian baritone has already impressed with his outstanding diction in three albums of North American song for Hyperion. Now he turns to the repertoire that Britten wrote for two of his favourite baritones: Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) and Tit for Tat (John Shirley-Quirk) … Tit for Tat displays the young composer's prodigious melodic gift and his savour of words. Finley's noble baritone is a richer-coloured instrument than Shirley-Quirk's … in the Blake settings, Finley naturally sounds more at home with the English texts than Fischer-Dieskau ever did … Finley's watchwords are directness and clarity, both of which come across to splendid effect in the folk-song arrangements … Drake is his admirable partner in this outstanding enterprise' (The Sunday Times)

'This marvellous CD showcases the songs Britten wrote for the baritones Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, John Shirley-Quirk and Benjamin Luxon—music that Finley, at the peak of his very considerable powers, makes his own with the pianist Julius Drake … Finley lends it [Songs and Proverbs of William Blake] the very beauty and intelligence and ecstatic vocalism it needs, without the mannerisms of Fischer-Dieskau' (Financial Times)

Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, Op 74
Aldeburgh, completed 6 April 1965; first performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Benjamin Britten at the Aldeburgh Festival on 24 June 1965; originally titled Songs and Sentences of William Blake
author of text
selected by Peter Pears from the Songs of Experience, the Auguries of Innocence, and the Proverbs of Hell

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In 1965, the Aldeburgh Festival was the venue for the substantial and challenging baritone cycle, the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake. Britten’s close association with the legendary German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau began in the early 1960s, and the baritone parts in Britten’s War Requiem (1962) and Cantata Misericordium (1963) had been written specifically for him to sing. Shortly afterwards the composer embarked on the composition of a solo song-cycle designed to showcase Fischer-Dieskau’s unique blend of intense lyricism and dramatic characterization, and Britten turned for inspiration to the vivid and sometimes visionary poetry of William Blake. Britten’s working title for the cycle—which was based on fourteen short but striking Blake texts selected by Pears—was Songs and Sentences of William Blake. The score was completed on 6 April 1965, the manuscript inscribed with the words ‘For Dieter: the past and the future’. The work, under its slightly revised title, was first performed by its dedicatee and composer at Aldeburgh’s Parish Church on 24 June 1965, and six months later the two men recorded their powerful interpretation for Decca at Kingsway Hall, London.

Britten’s Blake cycle returns in places to the dark intensity of his much earlier Blake setting, ‘The Sick Rose’ (‘Elegy’) from the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings of 1943. Both the fully chromatic melody and striking image of cankerous corruption in the earlier song look directly ahead to the Songs and Proverbs—which are based on texts drawn from Blake’s Songs of Experience (1794), in which ‘The Sick Rose’ is also to be found. With the addition of one poem from the Songs of Innocence (1789) and several epigrams from the undated Proverbs of Hell, Britten created a continuous structure in which the Proverbs are set to recurrent but constantly reworked ritornello material, a structural plan familiar from other Britten works of the late 1950s and early 1960s (principally the orchestral song-cycle Nocturne, the opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Cantata Misericordium). These stark Proverbs are clearly distinguished from the songs they punctuate by their disconcerting lack of metrical synchronization between voice and piano—a feature retained from the Church Parable Curlew River, composed in the previous year—and they also make limited use of twelve-note techniques.

As so often in Britten’s later music, the tension between luminous diatonicism and elusive chromaticism is exploited throughout the cycle as a potent symbol for the conflict between innocence and experience at the heart of Blake’s poetry. The settings of ‘London’ and ‘Every Night and every Morn’ that frame the cycle are closely related in their ambiguous and subtly disturbing chromaticism, while greater tonal simplicity is reserved for natural scenes: the bright glow of ‘The Tyger’ and the lament for ‘The Fly’. Moments of tremendous rhetorical power are strategically located in ‘A Poison Tree’ and ‘Ah, Sun-flower’. ‘A Poison Tree’ features a highly original use of simple major and minor triads within a context of chromatic saturation. The young Britten had previously set this same Blake text to music on 2 March 1935; the earlier song remained unperformed until 1986. As in the opera The Turn of the Screw (1954), the intense chromaticism of the mature treatment of this gripping text serves as a graphic symbol of cankerous evil, and forms the utterly chilling core of the cycle.

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2010

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