FREDERICK DELIUS: Orchestral Music Arranged for Two Pianos, Vol. 2 – Paris, the Song of a Great City; Eventyr; Fantastic Dance; Summer Night on the River; Song of the High Hills – Simon Callaghan & Hiroaki Takenouchi – Somm Celeste Series CD 0129, 79:35 [Distr. by Allegro] (11/12/13) ****:
We somehow missed out on volume 1 of this set, and after hearing this one I’m truly sorry. Before the advent of recording, it was a general procedure to have solo, four hand and two-piano transcriptions made of popular orchestral works to bring them to a wider audience. Today they are no longer needed for that reason, but many still can provide a different angle on the particular work for the particular listener. Some composers work better at this reduction than others, but Delius comes thru very well. I think the two piano form is part of the success, so much better at preserving the orchestral complexity than solo or four hands.
Many composers did their own piano transcriptions, or even created their works first for the keyboard, and others had a particular person who usually transcribed their orchestral works. Delius had it easy, in that a large group of his musical friends frequently volunteered to do the transcriptions. For example, each of these five selections was transcribed by a different musician – the last two by Phillip Heseltine (Peter Warlock) and Percy Grainger respectively.
The first and last of the five selections are the longest and are quite different from one another. Paris was inspired by the bewitched life Delius had there when he was young man. (And probably where he picked up the syphilis which ended up making him blind and paralyzed later in life.) The many colors and noise of Paris are captured, along with the quieter glimpses of its dark quarters. Though the orchestral fabric was superb at communicating this, the two piano version works quite well. Eventyr is a “ballad for orchestra” inspired by Norwegian folk legends. Having witches, giants and trolls, it is wilder than anything else Delius did, though in the piano version there is no shouting out as do the players in the orchestra version.
Summer Night on the River is the second of Delius’ first big success: his Two pieces for small orchestra. (The first is On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.) His amanuensis Fenby had said: “One can almost see the gnats and dragonflies darting over the waterlilies…” The half-hour-long Song of the High Hills is also Norwegian inspired, and the orchestral original also includes a wordless chorus. Delius said he wanted to express the joy and exhilaration one feels in the mountains.
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