The songs of Frederick Delius have not been treated very well on record. This album now becomes the standard bearer, perhaps by default, but it is still a very well-recorded and interpreted issue that deserves the highest praise for its subtle shadings of the composer’s always unique and often quirky sound world. Delius’s art was one of cosmopolitan greatness, and his ultimate acceptance by the English establishment belies the fact that his music is for the most part very un-English in temperament. Fully half of his settings are of Danish and Norwegian poetry, with only twelve English songs extant, along with eleven German, seven French, and one Swedish. This recording gives us a fine mix of that curiously melted pot,
Delius had a great friendship with Edvard Grieg, and stayed with him often. That particular influence cut both ways, as Grieg marveled over the Seven Songs from the Norwegian, though Delius’s entire output may be said to resound with the simple, unaffected, yet profoundly honest settings of the Norwegian composer. Certainly there was the characteristic Delius sound, marked by his pseudo-Wagnerian harmonies and absolutely incomparable method of aural tone painting, always ingratiating to the ears. But what the world will discover in Yvonne Kenny’s sterling singing is how well the composer paints poetic text as well, knowing when to thin the harmonies when an especially complex text presents itself, and how to beef up simple phrasings when it is time for the music to take over. In this case he is Wagnerian to the core, at least in philosophy, but even more atmospheric than the German ever pretended to be.
And it was in Germany that Delius first gained recognition, though he was not particularly drawn to the German song tradition. But here he made his acquaintance with Nietzsche, whose texts he was to use for his later Mass of Life. Yet he was not destined to spend too much time there, and in 1914 left in the face of the advance of the Germans to France, reestablishing his English roots, and finally getting the English on board as well, cementing that relationship for good when he obtained the fervent, almost disciple-like adherence of Sir Thomas Beecham.
Sixty songs is not the largest output of any composer, but it does represent a goodly effort that well establishes one as a first-class lied writer. In this case, the writer has been unjustly neglected, and any artist wishing to add to their repertory would do well to examine these, for they lie well on the voice and have enormous descriptive power. Kenny’s effort was worth waiting for, and Piers Lane is equally at home with this lovely music. Delius lovers rejoice, for there is now at least a sampling available in superb Hyperion sound—let’s hope there will be more.
— Steven Ritter