Michael Finnissy: Singular Voices

review finnisy x1 cong

The Cathy Berberian CD (somewhere on this site) features a soprano, and this CD features a soprano, but that’s like saying Captain Beefheart and Stevie Wonder both play the harmonica. You can stick on the Berberian CD and enjoy it but this is not quite so easy.

We were negative about a CD the other week and felt bad about it — it was just different — but then heard the Private Eye podcast complaining that reviewers today always feel the need to praise even average works to the high heavens. This is not average but it is experimental and it’s not easy. If you bought the vinyl you would listen to a side at a time, and side two would get more wear.

The CD title is correct though: singular it is.

What would be side one is a collection of songs with titles such as Song 1, Song 16 and Song 11 and, when he was stuck for a title, Lord Melbourne.

The sleeve notes talk about Finnissy presenting the solo soprano voice (Clare Lesser in this case) in a style that takes the folk and the spiritual to present something more abrasive, and even aggressive, and abrasive it mostly is. This is not in a discordantly-shriek-as-loud-as-we-can way but by the pairing of the voice with piano (David Lesser) and clarinet (Carl Rosman). In a different setting, Clare’s pure voice would be ethereally beautiful.

Side two would be Beuk o’Newcassel Sangs, eight traditional songs from the North East England, with titles such as Up The Raw, Maw Bonny and A’ the Neet Ower An’ Ower. Slightly easier on the ear — slightly. Don’t expect Mark Knopfler to pop up with Why Aye Man. It’s not the kind of folk you’d hear in a Newcastle pub on a Saturday night but it is less confrontational than the first set of songs.

Finnissy sets out to challenge if not provoke, and he succeeds. Approach with care and don’t expect to keep playing on repeat.

Out on Divine Art’s Metier label, (MSV28557).

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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