A DELIUS Collection of Rare Historic Recordings = La Calinda; Irmelin Prelude; Caprice & Elegy for Cello and Piano; Air and Dance; “The Violet”; “Sweet Venevil”; On Hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring; “Indian Love Song”; “To the Queen of my Heart”; “Love’s Philosophy”; Two Aquarelles; Three Preludes for Piano; The Walk to the Paradise Garden; Legende for Violin & Piano; A Song of Summer – Conductors: Constant Lambert and Halle Orch./ Sidney Beer and National Symphony Orch./ Boyd Neel String Orch./ Anthony Collins and London Symphony Orch./ Sir John Barbirolli and Halle Orch./ Eugene Goossens and Cincinnati Sym. Orch./ Anthony Pini, cello/ Wilfred Parry, piano/ Joan Stuart, soprano/ Gordon Watson, piano/ Maggie Teyte, soprano/ Rita Mackay, piano/ Heddle Nash, tenor/ Gerald Moore, piano/ Isobel Baillie, soprano/ Gerald Moore, piano/ Evlyn Howard-Jones, piano (Preludes)/ Henry Holst, violin/ Gerald Moore, piano – Danacord CACOCD 717, 76:06 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The music of Frederick Delius (1862-1934) has always offered a double-edged sword to this reviewer: the consistently lush surface patina and beguiling melodies remain emotionally unsatisfying and merely “effectual,” no matter how exact the readings by the world’s expert performers, first among them Sir Thomas Beecham. The music, like that of Ottorino Respighi, merely contributes to a decadent aestheticism, a kind of landscape painting merely as an end in itself. Opulent, brightly lit, effectively orchestrated, often exotically charming, Delius occupies his special place in music, but music of emotional depth it is not.
Producer Jesper Buhl of Danacord assembles, with compiler Lyndon Jenkins, a selection of Delius inscriptions, 1929-1953, that embrace the composer’s wide range of media, from orchestral symphonic poems to his art songs, and several chamber music pieces. The sheer energy of the performances warrants any Delius admirer’s immediate attention: Constant Lambert opens with gusto in La Calinda (30 July 1941), the busy dance from Koanga (1897) arranged by Eric Fenby. Sidney Beer, the founder of the National Symphony Orchestra, leads that ensemble in the alluring Irmelin Prelude (8 June 1944), offering beautiful wind and harp tones mixed in haunted colors. Cellist Anthony Pini, principal of Beecham’s London Philharmonic, joins Wilfrid Parry in 1955 for the 1930 Caprice & Elegy, asking much of Pini’s upper viola register. The other chamber work, the Paris-days 1890’s Legende, has Danish violinist Henry Holst (7 August 1942) working with the reliable Gerald Moore. Boyd Neel established his String Orchestra in 1933, having been impressed with Beecham’s LPO; he performs Delius’ 1915 Air and Dance (20 October 1948) from noisy Decca shellacs, but the autumnal lament and frolic manages to smile through. Anthony Collins, a former viola player who turned conductor and gained note in the music of Sibelius, impresses us (23 February 1953) with On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, a 1912 landscape piece that exploits tunes and harmonies from Norway, especially rife in Grieg.
Sir John Barbirolli appears twice on this disc, first with Two Aquarelles (1 April 1948), wordless part-songs of 1917 reset for strings in 1932 by Eric Fenby and premiered in 1938 by Boyd Neel. In this arrangement, they become analogues for Grieg’s Op. 34 Elegiac Melodies. Barbirolli (2 February 1950) will conclude the disc with A Song of Summer, another Fenby arrangement of music Delius had written in 1918 as A Poem of Life and Love, an allusion to Dvorak’s Op. 91. With a new opening by Delius from 1929, the work received its premier in 1931 under Sir Henry Wood. The glowing tone-poem extends to us Delius’ quintessential mood-music, an evocation of Nature in its most “literal” guise of unfettered vista and pantheistic musing. The ubiquitous The Walk to the Paradise Garden from the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet (1901) provides us the only American ensemble represented in this collection: Eugene Goossens leads the Cincinnati Symphony (14 February 1946) in the Beecham arrangement in this blissful interlude that depicts young lovers Sali and Vreli en route to an inn, “The Paradise Garden.”
The remainder of the performances concentrates on art-song and the Three Piano Preludes, the latter conceived in Delius’ illness around 1928, and recorded by Evlyn Howard-Jones (4 April 1929), to whom they are dedicated. They each essentially project water-pieces in the spirit of Debussy, the second almost a direct image of the E Major Arabesque. Each of the singers who appears on this disc had worked with Sir Thomas Beecham, particularly in Delius productions. Joan Stuart (rec. 1955) appeared in Irmelin in 1954 with Beecham in a televised broadcast. Her “The Violet” and “Sweet Venevil” formed part of the same Argo LP. Maggie Teyte won fame in the music of Debussy as well as in opera performances. Her “Indian Love Song” (rec. 1937) betrays a bit of strain at the top, but her diction remains clear. Isobel Baillie gained a reputation in oratorio performances, and her “Love’s philosophy” (rec. 31 May 1945) allows accompanist Gerald Moore to show off his brisk figurations that sound like Schubert, the conceit straight from the Cavalier Poets. In “To the Queen of my Heart” (rec. 7 December 1934), tenor Heddle Nash sings a love song that borrows stylistically from Faure’s piano music and Puccini’s vocal line from Madame Butterfly. The Nash magic is al there: and we recall that he participated in the 1929 Delius Festival given by that stalwart champion of this music, Sir Thomas Beecham.
A gloriously vivid sonic document!