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Daniel Shirley had a hall full of fans for his faculty recital, singing the work of Gerald Finzi. Although, as he observed from the stage, “A lot of you had to be here,” there seemed to be no one who was begrudging of that assignment. Before a note was ever sung, Shirley's appearance on the stage was greeted by thunderous applause, with enthusiastic whoops and whistles as well. The A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall was pretty much full. There were only fifteen or twenty of us oldsters; the cheering was from the young, not to mention some enthusiastic ululations from one of his infant offspring who was in the audience! Shirley spoke briefly before singing, with well-worked-out remarks that were informal, precise and scholarly, but never dull or dry. He has a charismatic stage presence.
The program was Gerald Finzi's A Young Man's Exhortation (Opus 14) and Till Earth Outwears (Opus 19). Both pieces are settings of the poetry of Finzi's favorite, Thomas Hardy.
A Young Man's Exhortation was three years in the composing; the two parts speak of the poet's beginning young love and of his life after being widowed. Poems set to music require a special voice, one perfectly musical and perfectly understandable at the same time. Such is Shirley's, which can be described as either spoken singing or singing talking. His tone quality was perfect and his diction flawless. The movement "Ditty" was jolly and poignant; "Budmouth Dears" is a British march that allowed Shirley to show us his outdoor voice; "Her Temple" is romantic, but melodically disjunctive, not, in my opinion, Finzi's best melody; "The Comet at Yell'ham" was very ethereal.
"Shortening Days" used Shirley's entire range from ppp to fff very effectively; "The Sigh" was conversational; "Former Beauties" was sad, then happily retrospective; "Transformations" was symphonic, with lots of piano work; "The Dance Continued" was melancholy and conflicted.
The piano accompaniment of Catherine Garner was an example of consummate musicianship throughout. The piano was too big for the hall and too big for any soloist; part of Garner's excellence was the taming of this beast.
Till Earth Outwears (Opus 19) was assembled posthumously from Finzi's work. "In Years Defaced" was dissonant and melancholy; "The Market-Girl" had a very singing quality to the singing; "At a Lunar Eclipse" used the singer's high range to evoke the moon.
"At a Lunar Eclipse" was the only music of the evening that called on Shirley's high range, an instrument as fine as any other we have heard. Shirley had a perfect stage presence and a correct but comfortable and personable delivery. His voice was powerful only when needed and never harsh.
Shirley and Garner received a well-deserved standing ovation.