Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Florida Suite (1899) [34.49]
Over the Hills and Far Away (1898) [12.54]
Songs of Sunset (1928) [31.03]
Maureen Forrester (alto)
John Cameron (ten)
Beecham Choral Society
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, 10, 19, 21-22 Nov, 4 Dec 1956, 1-2 Apr 1957. ADD Stereo
EMI CLASSICS 5 75788 2 [77.37]


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The first two pieces on this disc are from early in the Delius canon. The suite was written the year after his influential spell in Florida where his father sent him in the, ultimately vain, hope that he would take an interest in 'business'. Instead Delius's musical avocation became even more deeply rooted. The blossom, the fragrances, the warmth and the singing of the plantation workers seeped into his bones. These can be heard in the rhapsodic sultriness of much of his music. One wonders what the effect would have been had he been packed off to Norway from the very beginning or had never moved from his native heath.

These Beecham specials held the Delius banner high when the world seemed to have left the composer beached and bleaching. At that stage the suite and the overture were coupled on an HQS prefix EMI LP with an insipid green surface and with a faded picture of the cigar-wielding Beecham against the background of fruit trees laden with blossom.

This brings us to the Suite. This is fluent and poetic; though at times languid, it has more dynamic material than the mature works. I mean it no disservice when I compare it to the scenic suites of Massenet and Charpentier though made yet more imaginative by many a Daphnis-related coup. The famous La Calinda is woven into the music. The Fantasy Overture's spell is related to the bumptious gaudy confidence of Bax's Rosc Catha and the more rambunctious moments in the music of Stanford.

Songs of Sunset are to words by Delius poet par excellence - Ernest Dowson (1867-1900). This is Delius of full maturity with music characterised by sunset values - a regretful glow rather than a Götterdämmerung clamour. The music undulates smoothly, mixing nectar with tears, separation made keen by exulting in the retrospect of earthly delight. Cameron is secure and clear while Forrester is matronly. Beecham balanced and sized the choir to perfection so that the words (printed in the booklet) are not lost. The eighth and final song ends with the stanza:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

Out of a misty dream

Our path emerges for a while, then closes

Within a dream.

The work cross-refers to moods familiar from Sea Drift (compare tr. 11 and the close of 'See how the trees') and that bafflingly neglected masterpiece, the Requiem.

Is it me or have the years imparted a glare to the string sound and a shrillness to the moments crowned by the ringing of the triangle in They are not long? You hear this also in the more dramatic moments in the suite and the overture. These are 1985 vintage remasterings so I wonder if the analogue stock would yield more temperate results if transferred with the benison of the latest technology. These hints of ferocity can be charmed away by judicious treble cut.

The competition? There is a modern recording of the suite from Chandos (Handley). The overture (I seem to recall) appears in the Naxos historical series. The Songs of Sunset have been recorded several times. Sir Charles Groves' version recorded during the late 1960s with the Liverpool Choir is warmer than the Beecham and the choir sounds bigger. It also has the ‘dream team’ of Janet Baker and John Shirley-Quirk so if you can find it (EMI Classics CMS 7 64218 2, released 1992) you may well prefer it; I do. If you demand more emotional colour in your baritone voices and a less plummy accent as well as a riper modern recording then there is no contest. You need Chandos's triple crowned CHAN 9214 (Bryn Terfel, Sally Burgess and Bournemouth forces conducted by an inspired Richard Hickox - inspiration is not to be taken for granted in Hickox's case but as in the Rubbra symphones he makes a superb job of all three works). For me the contest in the Songs of Sunset is between Hickox and Groves. Groves is strong, clear and with classically gifted voices; Hickox is emotional and luxuriously recorded with a very big sound. True Beechamites and Delians will want the complete Songs of Sunset in stressed sound from 1934 with the vibrant Olga Haley and Roy Henderson - a very special experience but the whiskery constrained mono will put many off.

Beecham's history of Delius exegesis can be viewed through his earliest efforts in the studio (EMI, Naxos and Somm), through to his electric mono era (1940s and 1950s on Sony) to these, his late stereo tapes (1950s and early 1960s for EMI Classics). We are encouraged to regard his Delius as sui generis and in many ways it is - he helped create and re-create many of the works, after all - but forgotten German champions who had fallen away might just as easily have carved a place in the sun for Delius’s music. I do not exalt Beecham recordings in quite the same way as many others. For later generations (and still worse for those who were of Beecham's own generation) going into the recording studio was often a critically thankless task. Reviewers would always compare with Beecham. Messianic connections were the only salvation. You had to have been close to Delius (as was Fenby) or to have played under Beecham (Del Mar and, I think, Marriner) or to have played the cloak-touching disciple or acolyte. If not then you faced an Eiger face of ingrained resistance. Both Handley and Barbirolli have produced some exceptional Delius. Handley's complete Hassan music as well as his Eventyr should be in the collections of all Delians. Meredith Davies's Village Romeo and Juliet did not deserve its long and dusty reign in vinyl purgatory. Davies’ version of the Requiem portrays a work of potent melodic, dramatic and emotional range.

Summing up: Beecham's Delius in stereo. This will be enough for most of you to reach for your credit or debit cards. The suite and the overture, if hampered by some violinistic glare, are well worth it. The Songs of Sunset (once coupled on an HMV Classics LP with Bantock's Beecham-conducted Fifine at the Fair) can be bettered elsewhere.

Rob Barnett

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