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Canadian Baritone Gerland Finley's recording of Shostakovich's Six Romances on Verses by English Poets, and Suite on Poems by Michelangelo, has been named Limelight Magazine's Recording of the Year 2014.
Limelight critic William Yoeman's five star review, featured in the September issue, described the recording as "the sort of release that warms my heart: intelligent artists at the top of their game exploring obscure but important repertoires."
Finely's recording, which also features the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Thomas Sanderling, was also named the winner of the Vocal Categrory of the Limelight Recording of the Year Awards. In an exclusive interview, Finley told Limelight what had drawn him to record these little known songs by the great Russian 20th century composer Shostakovich.
"It was three years ago that Ondine asked if I’d sing a program with the Helsinki Philharmonic and Thomas Sanderling, who is such a flag bearer for Shostakovich. The only other Shostakovich I had done were his orchestrations of the Mussorgsky Songs and Dances of Death. Although Shostakovich was steeped in what I would call the tradition of Russian music, or that great legacy of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, I think his worldview was such that he could look outside the mother country and recognise that music is an international thing. He was very aware of poetry and literary influences from outside Russia, and so he composed this strange group of British and American folk songs.
"I think he was compelled by the powers that be to write them during the war – he had already set the texts in Russian. Which begs the question, why sing them in English? My feeling is that it makes Shostakovich’s music accessible to a much broader range of people, and it’s fascinating to see that the songs don’t lose their essence and power by putting them back into the original language.
"As to what he was trying to say in the Michelangelo Suite, I defer to my association with Thomas Sanderling because obviously there was personal relationship between the two of them. Sanderling was a young man when he met Shostakovich, who I’m sure was able to reveal one or two things about the cycle. There’s no question that the frustrations that Michelangelo feels towards his patrons (or lack of patrons), or his attitude to artists having to do commissions for people whom he didn’t respect was probably very much in Shostakovich’s mind.
"Like a sculptor, he’s trying to fabricate music out of this mass of notes. There must have been a great affinity as one artist reflecting on the challenges of another. Although it’s dark music there is also the beauty of the more lyrical movements – the sensuality and delicacy of the text (particularly in our Italian version). I think the tenderness of these pieces is very personal, all the way through to the idea of Dante (in Michelangelo’s poem) being exiled while Shostakovich was cut off from his compositional aims. It was this idea of immortality – that he would be immortal because of what he left behind."
Shostakovich, Six Romances on Verses by English Poets, Suite on Poems by Michelangelo is available now.