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THE BALLAD SINGER (baritone: Gerald Finley; piano: Julius Drake)

Cd/Dvd Reviews -

Cole Porter, Loewe, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Wolf

Gerald Finley, Julius Drake
Hyperion CDA67830

by Clive Paget on October 12, 2011 (October 12, 2011) filed under | Comment Now
A brilliantly constructed program of tales told through poetry and music, from an intelligent singer at the very top of his game.

Anyone familiar with Schubert’s murderous Die Nonne (The Nun) or Mendelssohn’s frenzied Hexenlied will know the extremes to which a 19th-century composer might go in order to send shivers up the collective spines of his audience with a ghoulish musical yarn. But if an hour of such fare fills you with trepidation, fear not, for with Canadian baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake you will be in very safe hands.  

This is a brilliantly constructed program of tales told through poetry and music, ranging from blockbusters like Erlkönig, a most deeply felt Lost Chord and ending with a razor-sharp Cole Porter ballad about a social-climbing oyster who goes down the wrong way with inevitable results. Finley is clearly a singer at the very top of his game – the voice always used with intelligence; full, resonant and flexible. I would be hard pressed to think of a rival today who could finesse these songs with such grace, nuance and sheer vocal acting. Drake is in his element as well, breathing fire or exuding pathos in turn. 

Standouts include a hypnotic rendition of Edward, Loewe’s tale of patricide revealed, as well as a chilling Der Feuerreiter – Wolf’s ballad of the legendary, mad fire-rider at the time of the Thirty Years’ War (just listen to the chilling moment when Finley describes the skeleton crumbling to ashes). The survey is wide-ranging and full of variety: Beethoven, Mahler, Stanford are all included. So turn down the lamp – this is one for the fireside on a long winter night.