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Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Michael Finnissy, Choralvorspiele, Andersen-Liederkreis, Juliet Fraser & Mark Knoop
On the docket for today is a program of works by the ever Modern music titan Michael Finnissy. On the CD are paired together his Choralvorspiele with Andersen-Liederkries (Hat [NOW] ART 212). The two works are well situated together, both involving works within a larger whole, Choralvorspiele a set of chorales for piano based on Norwegian and American melodies, and Andersen-Liederkreis as the title suggests a group of lieder based on texts by Hans Christian Andersen.
The artists involved in the program, pianist Mark Knoop and soprano Juliet Fraser, seem especially right for this music, which has a lyric-Modern beauty in its fragility and whimsicality. One might note at this point that Finnissy's setting of "The Emperor's New Clothes" is quite timely since it may be the fable most relevant to the age we live in now. It is well done. I have nothing but the highest praise for Knoop's poetic, definitive readings, and to my mind Juliet Fraser shows herself the ideal Modern lieder exponent. For the Finnissy she is rather perfect. I would look forward to hearing her do any number of works in the Modern pantheon. She as I think is right does not accentuate that kind of operatic power of volume, overly pronounced vibrato, and sentimental overkill that mars the worst of those who take on the Modern song. Every work may call for something different but to my mind too much operatic hoist is never wholly appropriate to the Art Song today. Moreover Fraser is reassuringly, textually oriented, pitch perfect in her execution of the many twists and turns, and fully able to control artfully the presence or absence and the delivery of vibrato as a color. Her reading of the lieder here sounds so musical and style appropriate that I would recommend it be heard by anyone needing an object lesson in how things can go when they go well!
Juliet Fraser does not just sing remarkably well. She also gives us an insightful view of Finnissy's musical ways in the liners. She notes "the flawless technique, the innate vocality, the lyricism (albeit extreme), the loving attention paid to text, the serious engagement with music of the past that somehow always bears forth a new music that is recognizably idiosyncratic, the 'fleshiness,' the visceral punch it packs." All this we can hear readily on the program. What also immediately hit me when I first listened to this program is a telling attention to sounding smaller simultaneities like seconds and thirds on the piano, almost like an avant Floyd Cramer on a Last Date into another world? Well that is surprising and also quite enjoyable to me. Mind you it is more present in the chorale work. Still it paves the way for the many charms of this program and grabs your ears immediately.
Both works pack a good deal into themselves and end up supplying a fresh landscape that is neither self-consciously advanced nor deliberately archaic, but enchanted, magical in its refusal to land on the more well-traveled parts of the troposphere of New Music concerns. It goes its own way in the most lovely terms one could hope for.
It is a volume I do not hesitate to recommended to you. A good place to embark on a Finnissy discovery trip. Or to continue on it. Very heartening.