> Delius Brigg Fair etc Handley [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Brigg Fair*
In a Summer Garden*
A Song of Summer*
Summer Night on the River
A Song before Sunrise
The Walk to the Paradise Garden

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Hallé Orchestra*
Vernon Handley
Recorded 8-9 September 1981, Free Trade Hall, Manchester*, 10-11 October 1977 Henry Wood Hall, Southward, London
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 5 75315 2 [79.11] Superbudget


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No composer of the past quarter century has served the cause of British music more nobly than Vernon Handley, both in terms of mainstream repertoire and in terms of allowing the public to hear neglected music in need of reappraisal. He has not been alone, of course, since Richard Hickox, Neville Marriner and others have played their part. But no-one has done more.

Handley is a distinctive Delian, finding drama at every opportunity and persuading his musicians to match his commitment. Therefore the orchestral variations on a Lincolnshire folksong, Brigg Fair, is music that suits him particularly well. Of course Sir Thomas Beecham is always the bench mark for Delius aficionados, but Handley's more thrusting approach is highly successful in this piece. It is not just a matter of creating a lively drama; in the larger pieces such as this the more poetic moments make a strong impression too, not least because they stand out so well within the context of the whole work.

If In a Summer Garden feels less immediately impressive, it is not necessarily Handley's fault, nor his orchestra's (the Hallé is on pretty good form throughout). Rather Delius left a piece which floats delicately for long passages, and which challenges the performers to sustain and justify a duration of nearly a quarter of an hour. It is a demanding task, and fundamentally a matter of matching poetry with a sense of line as the music evolved. For it does not really develop in the quasi-symphonic sense. Sir John Barbirolli, also with the Hallé, was particularly skilled at this kind of challenge.

Back to Handley, and two rather good performances: Eventyr and A Song of Summer. The former is an eventful and at times dramatic piece, justifying its 16-minute time span, and requiring the orchestral players to make vocal contributions on a couple of occasions. The Hallé are on good form vocally as well as instrumentally, and they sound as though they are enjoying themselves.

A Song of Summer is a product of the ailing Delius's collaboration with his amanuensis Eric Fenby. There are few more evocative and beautiful openings than this, and Handley judges it to perfection. The performance continues to the same standard, and is one of the best things on the disc, moving with subtle mobility and well focused balance. Here as elsewhere the EMI recording supports the artistic enterprise nicely.

The remaining items were recorded in London four years earlier, this time with the London Philharmonic. All are well played and help make this well filled CD an excellent bargain. Both Summer Night on the River and A Song before Sunrise are tastefully shaped, even if they do just lack that special Beecham magic. But The Walk to the Paradise Garden, which began life as an interlude in Delius's opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, is music which suits Handley's approach to perfection. The orchestral tone has splendid lustre and builds to a rich climax, and the whole performance is admirably paced and shaped.

Terry Barfoot

See other Handley Classics for Pleasure releases


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