The Story Tenor - 24 Songs by Gerald Finzi [featuring John Beaumont (tenor) & Charles Matthews (piano)]

CD in digifile + booklet - 24 tracks - 59 mins
Free download when you buy from the TouchShop included

The songs are contained in three cycles:

1. A YOUNG MAN’S EXHORTATION OP. 14 [Set to poems by Thomas Hardy]

1. A Young Man’s Exhortation
2. Ditty
3. Budmouth Dears
4. Her Temple
5. The Comet At Yell’ham
6. Shortening Days
7. The Sigh
8. Former Beauties
9. Transformations
10. The Dance Continued

2. TILL EARTH OUTWEARS OP. 19 [Set to poems by Thomas Hardy]

11. Let Me Enjoy The Earth
12. In Years Defaced
13. The Market-Girl
14. I Look Into My Glass
15. It Never Looks Like Summer
16. At A Lunar Eclipse
17. Life Laughs Onward

3. OH FAIR TO SEE OP. 13B [Set to works by various poets]

18. I Say, “I’ll Seek Her? (Thomas Hardy)

19. Oh Fair To See (Christina Rossetti)

20. As I Lay In The Early Sun (Edward Shanks)
21. Only The Wanderer (Ivor Gurney)

22. To Joy (Edmund Blunden)

23. Harvest (Edmund Blunden)

24. Since We Loved (Robert Bridges)

John Beaumont - The Story Tenor
Charles Matthews - Piano
Jonathan Lane - Sound Engineer
John Rushby-Smith - Producer

Recorded in The Nimbus Foundation's Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouthshire, in one 10-hour session from 10.00am - 8.00pm with multiple coffee & tea breaks; Friday 29th November 2013.

Gerald Finzi's particular synthesis of stylistic influences and his special sensitivity to English verse (notably, but by no means exclusively, that of Thomas Hardy) make him a unique figure, and certainly a towering presence in the English song repertory, regarded by some as a distinctly minority interest when compared to the French Romantic melodie, let alone the German Lied.

There is some truth in this, for all that it undervalues such masters as Purcell and Britten. Finzi felt little sympathy with the latter's work, but his own finest songs certainly hold their own in such company. As his biographer Diana McVeagh has written, his own word-setting idiom was closer to Dowland than Purcell, and he never displayed the virtuosic brilliance of Britten. With a compositional language firmly based in tonality, he often stresses that bedrock of Western music through the use of modality, bitonality, and his favourite device, the false relation. But even in such a strange song as "The comet at Yellham", the rock never crumbles.

Finzi loved the English countryside, living in it for many years, but his representation of its many aspects in his music is never sentimental, though often tinged with regret and nostalgia (as, for example, in 'Harvest' and 'The Market Girl'). Such emotions also spill over into those other overarching themes of his: love, both triumphant and lost (the latter remarkable for someone with as blissfully happy a marriage as Finzi had), the inevitable passage of time, and the ending of everything in death. For someone whose own life was ended prematurely by disease, the vision of bitterness in old age found in such a song as "I look into my glass" is truly remarkable.

About the players:

JOHN BEAUMONT

"My story began as Head Chorister in Wakefield Cathedral Choir where my father, its Canon Precentor (the priest in charge of all things musical) had in his time been a chorister alongside a young Kenneth Leighton, both having been born in 1929. Embarking on this project I discovered a twofold connection with Finzi; that he studied from 1917-22 with Edward Bairstow, organist of York Minster, where I was a Tenor Songman in its choir from 1983-1985 and also that he played a very supportive role in Leighton's early years helping him on his journey to becoming a 'name' & well-respected 20th Century composer. I encourage you to read more about Leighton's recollections of Finzi at www.geraldfinzi.org.

Moving to London, beyond working with the three choral foundations at St Pauls Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, I was singing on film soundtracks, TV advertisements, working latterly with the BBC Singers in the Proms and exploring a more diverse repertoire. Music was complimented by an 18-year career in the marketing communications industry, firstly with EMI Records and then as an Account Director with one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, and it was here that I learned about the importance of the message and the craft of communication – of storytelling.

A chance conversation led me to singing teacher Nicholas Clapton. His technical knowledge, intelligence in interpretation, and direct manner gave birth to The Story Tenor. That singing is ‘talking at pitch’ and the singer a vessel for its interpretation chimed with my thoughts, and 3 years hard work saw a vastly expanded repertoire and this, my first solo CD. Recorded on a crisp November day in 2013 during one 10-hour session in very rural Monmouthshire at the Wyastone Concert Hall, many songs were laid down in one 'take' (warts and all) to give the disc at least that sense of a live recording. I'd be very surprised if you found all 24 songs to your taste - they span decades of Finzi's composing life - but my hope is that you will find at least some that bring you pleasure, moving you to discover more of Thomas Hardy and the wider repertoire of 'unfashionable' English song. Thankfully, fashions come and go, and come round again. I also work with BJNilsen under the moniker "Black Death" and for Spire."

CHARLES MATTHEWS

"A hugely talented pianist and organist with whom it has been my privilege to work with since 2007. His sensitive, thoughtful and masterful interpretations of Finzi’s songs were a great inspiration for me on the day of the recording. Find out about Charles at www.charlesmatthews.co.uk." (John Beaumont) Charles is also a founder member of Spire - www.spire.org.uk

Reviews:

Planet Hugill (UK):

This new disc from tenor John Beaumont (The Story Tenor) and pianist Charles Matthews puts together three of Gerald Finzi's song cycles, A Young Man's Exhortation, Op 14 (premiered in 1933) setting Thomas Hardy, Till Earth outwears Op 19 also setting Thomas Hardy and Oh Fair to see Op 13B setting a variety of poets. Apart from A Young Man's Exhortation the other two are more strictly song sets. Finzi tended to accumulated songs in groups rather than release them individually, though Till Earth outwears was assembled after Finzi's death. Beaumont and Matthews have recorded the songs in a single mammoth session (8 hours) and the results are intended to have the immediacy of a live recording.

Beaumont is a choral tenor of some experience and in his notes to this recording he describes how the recording, his first solo CD, came about as the result of a change in teacher, a development of his technique and a concern for singing as 'talking at pitch'. It is a concern for words and their interaction with music which is Beaumont's prime concern on this disc.

The majority of words are by Thomas Hardy, in many ways a rather surprising poet to be the subject of so many songs. At first hearing, Hardy's poems are profoundly wordy and this comes over in the songs. Finzi set Hardy's poems throughout his life from the 1920's until just before his death in 1956. The two men may have met (both attended the 1919 Glastonbury Festival), and Finzi bought Hardy's walking stick after the writer's death. In all, Finzi set over 50 of Hardy's poems and of his nine song cycles six are to poems by Hardy. In fact, they are hardly cycles at all more like song-sets. And even A Young man's exhortation, though a formal cycle, has no strict narrative. But within this there are themes, notably the futility of war, the passing of time and the wonder of natural beauty.

The songs are predominantly melancholy and what struck me, listening to the disc from start to finish, was how much consistency of tone there was. I am sure that details changed in Finzi's technique over the years, but you feel that his approach to setting Hardy did not.

The performances from Beaumont and Matthews have a wonderful vibrancy and immediacy. It is clear that some songs, as Beaumont describes in his notes, were laid down 'warts and all', but in the context of a vividly narrated sequence of songs this hardly matters. Beaumont does not have a conventional English lyric tenor voice and it has to be said that his timbre is not always ideally relaxed but then the songs are far more complex and darker than some interpretations allow for.

Since first hearing the disc, I have been trying to think of a suitable analogy which will describe Beaumont's style and technique. I think that the closest I can come is to the singing of the baritone John Carol Case (himself associated with English song). Beaumont has the same wonderful clarity of diction combined with a richly interesting timbre.

The CD does not include the text of the songs, but that hardly matters as the way Beaumont conveys both the words and their meaning is entirely admirable. Not only is there clarity, there is also a naturalness as he makes sense of Finzi's setting of Hardy's complex lines. Throughout the disc Beaumont is well supported by Charles Matthews who conveys the poetry implicit in Finzi's writing.

I must, at this point, declare something of an interest. Whilst I was sent this disc by a third party, my professional relationship with John goes back some way and he has sung in the premieres of a number of my pieces, choral pieces as well as my opera When a Man Knows (and can be seen on the video of the opera).

You will probably want to have other recordings of Finzi songs on your shelves, having them sung by a lyric tenor like Martyn Hall or Mark Padmore is a boon and a delight. But Beaumont and Matthews approach pays rich dividends and deserves attention.



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The Story Tenor - 24 Songs by Gerald Finzi [featuring John Beaumont (tenor) & Charles Matthews (piano)]


MP3 sample

Track 13:  The Market Girl



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