Despite being primarily known for his orchestral works, Delius
wrote a large number of songs, as well as operas and larger-scale
choral works. Only a dozen of his songs set original English poetry,
with a few others setting French, German and Swedish, whilst over
half are settings of Norwegian and Danish poems. This may perhaps
be put down partly to the influence of Delius’s friend, Grieg,
who also set many of the same texts. It is interesting to note,
too, that Delius dedicated two sets of his Norwegian songs to
Grieg’s wife, the singer Nina.
The disc opens with the set of Seven Songs from the
Norwegian. These are mostly settings of verses by Bjornstjerne
Bjornson and Ibsen – contemporary poets whom Delius later met.
Several songs from Seven Danish Songs ensue - all but
one of the set are settings of Jens Peter Jacobsen – one of
Delius’s favourite writers, and on one of whose novels Delius
based his opera Fennimore and Gerda. French poetry is
represented by Verlaine (here Il pleure dans mon coeur,
Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit, La lune blanche
and Chanson d'automne), and England by Shelley (here,
Love's Philosophy), and by Delius’s settings of Herrick
and Ben Jonson, composed when back in England during the war.
Delius even nodded to the fashion then prevalent amongst British
composers for ‘Celtic’ settings, here in the form of the lovely
I-Brasil by William Sharp (under his pseudonym of Fiona
Macleod), a poet admired by Bax and Boughton amongst others,
and a book of whose poetry had been given to Delius by his then
young devotee, the composer Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine).
Yvonne Kenny and Piers Lane give good performances of
these beautiful songs. Kenny has a pleasantly rich, mature voice
- strong without being overpowering, and very well controlled,
with good enunciation and perfect pitching. She has quite a
dark shading in her voice which works well in these songs -
in the opening Twilight Fancies, for example, she captures
the lyrical brooding melancholy well. Lane is a sensitive accompanist,
and works well with the voice, supporting, enhancing, but never
dominating (as in The Bird's Story, for instance).
The songs encompass a great range of emotion – from the
beautifully tender and melting Cradle Song through to
the high-spirited O schneller, mein Ross. Although Kenny
does include some variation in her approach, my only criticism
of this disc might be that she generally tends to sing in a
rather heroic manner which tends to be applied to all the songs
without much relent.
In general, however, these are good performances of songs
that deserve to be more often heard. A number of them are quite
virtuosic, and Kenny and Lane perform them with passion and flair.