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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: 9 minutes 55 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)

Tit for Tat
compiled 1968; first performed by John Shirley-Quirk & Britten at the 1969 Aldeburgh Festival; No 1: January 1929; No 2: 28 January 1931, originally composed for accompaniment by string quartet; No 3: 13 June 1928; No 4: 23 Dec 1930; No 5: early Jan 1929
author of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The many poems set to music by Britten when he was a prolific schoolboy composer date from long before he met Pears, and the composer’s literary choices were at that early stage fairly conservative. Britten’s favourite poet during his youth was Walter de la Mare, and in 1968 the mature composer assembled a set of five of his juvenile settings of de la Mare’s poetry under the title Tit for Tat, which was given its first performance by John Shirley-Quirk and the composer at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1969. In his programme note written for the occasion, Britten commented that he had made his selection from songs composed between the ages of fourteen and seventeen; he said that he had ‘cleaned them very slightly, and here at this first performance, offer them in gratitude to the poet’s son, the wise and encouraging chairman of my new publishers, whose father’s poems have meant so much to me all through my life.’ (The reference was to Richard de la Mare, who was celebrating his seventieth birthday in that year, and who had become Chairman of Faber Music in 1966, having previously served as Chairman of the parent company Faber & Faber.) Britten’s punctilious attention to detail in his manuscripts meant that all the songs could be dated fairly precisely: ‘A Song of Enchantment’ was composed in January 1929, ‘Autumn’ (originally accompanied by string quartet) on 28 January 1931, ‘Silver’ on 13 June 1928, ‘Vigil’ on 23 December 1930, and the concluding title song in the first two weeks of 1929. In his preface to the published score, Britten noted that ‘oddly enough, the inadequacies seemed to be more striking in the later songs—new musical styles had appeared on the composer’s horizon too recently to be assimilated … At any rate, although I hold no claims whatever for the songs’ importance or originality, I do feel that the boy’s vision has a simplicity and clarity which might have given a little pleasure to the great poet, with his unique insight into a child’s mind.’

from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2010

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