Doctor Atomic sings Russian, mostly
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the 25th CD issued by Wigmore Hall in London, and it's undoubtedly one of the best. Canadian baritone Gerald Finley has been a leading opera/oratorio singer for over a decade, but he's likely to rise to stardom thanks to his lead role as J. Robert Oppoenheimer in John Adams' "Doctor Atomic." His previous CDs of Ives and Barber have been welcome fare in a musical landscape where high-quality song recitals keep growing thinner.
I've listed the full program below, at the risk of scaring off potential listeners, since Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Ned Rorem aren't exactly usual fare. But Finley comes out so dashingly in Tchaikovsky's "Don Juan's Serenade" that you have to keep listening. The voice itself has an ardent quality that's exciting, and in terms of technique, intonation, and musicianship, Finely is flawless. No doubt a native Russian speaker wouldn't find his pronunciation flawless, but thre's so much vitaltiy injected into every song that linguistics becomes a second thought. One advantage in not being Russian is that Finley's "Songs and Dances of Death" are touching without lapsing into tearful lugubriousness.(It msut be said, though, that his vocalism is far from a true Slavic baritone's, such as Dimitri Hvorostovksy or Sergei Liferkus.)
Most singers who take up Ned Rorem are female, so it's nice to hear a man singing texts that demand a masculine voice. The five "War Scenes" given here are freely adapted from Walt Whitman's often gruesome and yet compasisonate prose writing in the Civil War. Some are tender beyond any war poetry one can think of, and there's a chaste homoeroticism that is one of the hallmarks of Whitman's voice Finley handles this delicate territory direclty and sincerely, although I'm not sure that Roem's music reaches very deep. It was wise of the composer to keep his expresison minima, given lines like "His brains partially oozing out" -- the shock and pity of the words msut come first.
The sonics are very good, and Finley's longtime accompanist, Julius Drake, does well, although I wished at times for more character and force in the Russian songs.
Encore - Charles, W:
Green Eyed Dragon
Ecnore - Ives, C:
Songs and Dances of Death
Encore - Rautavaara:
Shall I compare thee
Don Juan's Serenade, Op. 38 No. 1
It happened in the early Spring Op. 38 No. 2
At the ball
Does the day reign?, Op. 47 No 6
The mild stars shone for us
Only one who knows longing
As over burning Embers