Born in south London in 1946, Michael Finnissy has become one of Britain’s most prominent and prolific composers. A piano virtuoso himself, a quarter of his 300 or so works are written for this instrument, including no less than 7 piano concertos. Metier are to be congratulated for championing his music in a rapidly expanding discography, and particularly the piano music either performed by the composer or as here by Ian Pace who has become especially associated with it. In 1996, in honour of the composer’s 50th birthday, Ian Pace gave a six concert series of Finnissy’s complete piano oeuvre directly inspiring Finnissy to begin a five and a half hour piano cycle, History of Photography in Sound, to be premiered by Pace this summer.
These two cycles are part of a large segment of Finnissy’s work which he describes as transcription. But make no mistake, these are no mere arrangements. As in Finnissy’s other major piano works of this type (for example the Verdi transcriptions) the initiating musical idea is completely transcended, a mere launch-pad for the composer’s fertile imagination.
Finnissy first heard Gershwin songs on his parent’s radio, and these arrangements arise from early happy experiences, transmogrified by improvisation, at first as recital encores. And what glorious music they make. By turns virtuosic and contemplative, they are given an incandescent performance by Ian Pace. The song tunes drift hazily in and out of the music. Layers of melody, voluptuous harmony, and intellectually challenging counterpoint entrap the listener into a wholly original and exciting sound world, nevertheless remarkably approachable for a late 20th century composition.The piano recording is delectable. This wonderful disc has already become a firm favourite in my catalogue. Finnissy is a national treasure; lets have lots more, please.