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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
On the Mountains - Symphonic Poem (1890-92) [15.50]
Seven Songs from the Norwegian (1889-90) [19.10]
Paa Vidderne - Melodrama (1888) [43.25]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) arr. DELIUS

Norwegian Bridal Procession (1888) [3.24]
Jan Lund (ten)
Peter Hall (narrator)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 3-7 Aug 2000. DDD
CLASSICO CLASSCD 364 [79.52]


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The unlikely alliance between a Danish company, a English conductor, the leading light in the promotion of music of the British renaissance and the Liverpool orchestra has produced a series of valuable discs presenting little known or completely unknown British music. This is the eighth volume in the series. There have been others since and more are to come.

The symphonic poem 'after Ibsen' On the Mountains was sketched while the composer was on a walking holiday with Grieg and Sinding in the Jotunheim Mountains in 1889. It was premiered in Oslo in 1891. Torridly romantic it makes opulent use of a Tchaikovskian idea which may well remind you of a moment in the Fourth Symphony. The material is not perhaps as memorable as it might have been but it works well. The Mountains were to be a recurrent motif in Delius's music. They reappear in the Song of the High Hills.

The Seven Songs are well enough known from the Unicorn Fenby Edition recording made all of thirty years ago if not longer. Sarah Walker and Ian Partridge make a good job of them in that case. Jan Lund is more splendidly recorded with detail after detail in pleasing focus under Tony Wass's watchful controls. Lund however seems to be afflicted with a tremble in the voice which some will find distracting. Six of the seven songs had previously been set by Grieg so Delius must have had considerable confidence in their worth and his abilities. Only two (Twilight Fancies and The Birds' Story) were orchestrated by Delius. Beecham did the honours for Young Venevil and Cradle Song. Anthony Payne's specially commissioned orchestrations of Hidden Love and The Minstrel complete the picture and are perfectly in style - compare the grinding gear changes you find in the orchestration of Finzi songs on the Chandos CD that also includes the violin concerto. With the exception of The Homeward Way (by Vinje) these are settings of Bjørnson and Ibsen.

In 1889 Delius orchestrated Grieg's cheery Bridal Procession (Op.19 No. 2) - a strongly folk-nationalist piece. His work has great delicacy with much soloistic writing in the manner of Smetana but with a light hand completely in keeping with Delius's flighty innocence.

Paa Vidderne is an epic score not far short of three quarters of an hour in performance. The poem, running to 68 stanzas, is by Henrik Ibsen here in a translation by Lionel Carley. The work is an example of melodrama - i.e. music with spoken voice. The genre was popular in the decades running up to the start of the twentieth century. In England the format continued into the 1920s and beyond. When you hear this you may think of Bliss's Morning Heroes and Vaughan Williams' An Oxford Elegy. Of these two works it is the Matthew Arnold 'Elegy' with its seeking in vain for Thyrsis the Scholar Gypsy that is most closely resembled. Peter Hall has the noble vocal bearing of John Westbrook (regular orator for EMI for the Bliss and RVW works) and his accent is less 'received BBC' than Westbrook's. His delivery, always deeply sensitive, is never obliterated by the orchestra. Ultimately after tests and visions in the setting of the narrator's beloved high places he gives up all ‘valley loves’ and allegiances in exchange for a lifetime's communion with mountain, crag and high pasture. The mountain theme was to find complete consummation in 1911 in The Song of the High Hills however Paa Vidderne is satisfying in its own right and is the most finished, rounded and successful work of the four collected here.

The music of Paa Vidderne is Tchaikovskian in its echoing of the passion of the lead character for his love (tr. 1-2). Shreds of themes later to mature as Walk to the Paradise Garden can be heard (00.15 tr.15) also the horn calls of Hassan's dawn and Song of the High Hills (2.03 in tr.15). The loss of self in the mountains can also be heard in the music of Vitezlav Novak and Mieczyslaw Karlowicz. These composers too were able to find their own equivalent of Wordsworth's 'visionary gleam' in the oxygen-light altitudes and wildernesses. In Delius and Ibsen's perfectly shared vision we know exactly where the gleam has fled and that the narrator has become the Thyrsis of the heights. There may be little call for such works in the concert hall but they make ideal CD listening.

This disc was recorded with financial assistance from the Delius Trust.

The notes by Lewis Foreman are encyclopaedic and deserve to join the bibliography of Delius scholarship.

I have idiosyncratic reservations about the tenor but that apart this is a strong, generous, valuable and substantial collection of early Delius. The grouping has its own compelling logic and both Delians as well as those concerned with impressionistic late-romanticism will have to add this disc to their shelves.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Stephen Lloyd

 

 



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