EIF: Gerald Finley & Julius Drake

Old College Quad

To perform Robert Schumann’s 16-song cycle Dichterliebe, setting the verse of Heinrich Heine, is a mighty undertaking. To do so twice in quick succession, to meet the audience social distancing requirements at this year’s Festival, and add the six Heine settings in Schubert’s posthumously-published Schwanengesang to the recital, is to demonstrate vocal fitness of Olympic standard.

Further than that, however, Canadian baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake had clearly considered the move to an outdoor venue with great care. This was a very deliberate Dichterliebe indeed, with very careful pacing and the dynamics of the performance honed to perfection.

Finley stood well back from the onstage microphones, and it was quite impossible to tell how much of the sound reaching the ears of the audience was being enhanced. The singer at full stretch was quite capable of defeating extraneous contributions from the world outside, and it was a joy to hear him in a way that he might have tempered in the Queen’s Hall. Der Atlas, which opened the Schubert selection, was muscular and powerful enough to bear the weight of the world indeed.

Finley’s delivery was not all about power though. He has the full spectrum of volume and expression across his entire vocal range, and showed it over the arc of the Schumann. Im Rhein began on sonorous form but  there was real tenderness at the start of Hor ich das Liedchen klingen and a gentle poignancy to Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen. Drake’s pianism matched his flexibility with sparkling phrasing on Das ist ein Floten und Geigen and deliciously spare playing on Ich hab’ im Traum.

The fatalism of Die alten bosen Lieder and its long piano outro were rewarded with respectful silence before the applause, a response repeated after the ominous Der Doppelganger closed the Schubert selection.

Keith Bruce