If you’re most familiar with the Canadian baritone Gerald Finley as one of the most charismatic opera singers of the day, it won’t surprise you that he’s a particularly affecting lieder singer, too. His new recording of Schubert’s Schwanengesang (coupled with Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge) showcases Finley at his best, with beautiful, supremely characterful singing, song-to-song.
The former quality is, here, simply amazing. Suffice it to say, Finley sings with a warmth of tone that’s all-enveloping: smooth, golden, focused, consoling. Add to that his rhythmic exactitude, intensity of tone, and spotless diction, and you’ve got some of the finest, most deeply-felt Schubert from a baritone this side of Thomas Quasthoff.
As far as the interpretive approach to these songs goes, Finley and pianist Julius Drake emphasize the music’s resigned, elegiac tone. Tempos lean towards expansiveness, though this is by no means a sluggish survey of these lieder. Quite the opposite: ‘Frühlingssensucht’ drives smartly while the ‘Abschied’ is positively jaunty.
At the same time, theirs is an exquisitely melancholy ‘Liebesbotschaft’; ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ and ‘Aufenthalt’ are shaped with sobering forcefulness; ‘Der Atlas,’ ‘Ihr Bild,’ and ‘Die Stadt’ come across with potent direction; and baritone & pianist deliver a fearsome, concluding ‘Der Doppelgänger’.
A similar concentration marks the pair’s traversal of the Brahms, a setting of four ‘non-dogmatic’ biblical texts that primarily focus on suffering. These are smartly-crafted readings: just listen to how the lyrical second subject of ‘Ich wandte mich’ is phrased or how Finley imbues the concluding ‘Wenn ich mit Menschen- und mit Engelzungen redete’ with shining nobility.
In all, it’s a potent disc, grandly sung, played, and recorded—and fully worthy of a spot in the pantheon with the likes of Hotter, Fischer-Dieskau, Goerne, and Quasthoff.