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November 17, 2005


Bogyo Canterbury

Wonderful blog!

I've been nuts about Finley's singing for years--his recordings with Gardiner and his contribution to the Hyperion Schubert series especially.

But the last two recordings (Messiah and Ives songs), the ones that are making such a big splash for him these days, I don't like at all.

For me, the Ives is often too croony and sung with weirdly distracting 'character voices'--the music is already wonderfully strange and sounds best to me when sung simply and directly (a la DeGaetani for example).

And, having listened to a few of NH's live oratorio recordings lately, I wonder if Harnoncourt forces singers to make bizarre choices in the way they shape recits. Often they don't sound to me like they're informed by any understanding of the English language. And Finley, normally so warm and supple in his singing, sounds hard and pushed and struggles to stay in tune. Maybe he was just under the weather that day.

I'm forever amazed/baffled/frustrated that reasonable and experienced listeners can have such varied opinions. Is there such thing as a work of art or performance that's just irrefutably good or bad?

Steve Smith

Thanks very much for this comment, Bogyo. I'll respectfully agree to disagree with you regarding the Ives; I don't think your characterization of Finley's performances are incorrect or inappropriate in any way, but I also didn't feel distracted by Finley's mannerisms (and that they are, definitely). One of the miracles of Ives, for me, is that his work holds steadfast in so many different interpretations -- I've been equally moved by Levine's Bergian plushness, Sinclair's skeletal choreography and the avant-garde impressionism of vibraphonist Matt Moran, whose group Sideshow is one of my favorite Ives ensembles.

As for Harnoncourt's Messiah, I think your description is exactly right -- much of what I didn't enjoy about the reading had to do with how very little of the language seemed natural, let alone idiomatic. So if I enjoyed "The trumpet shall sound" more than you did, take that as a sign of the relief I finally felt at hearing anything in this performance that truly moved me. And I'm willing to admit that my admiration may be overly colored by hearing once again the timbre that so messed me up at the end of the first act of Doctor Atomic.

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