Inspiration and Chandos are rarely distantly separated. Here
Delius’s trio of string instrument concertos appear for
the first time on one disc. It’s an obvious and compellingly
logical assemblage - something of a dream team. They always
belonged together but Chandos are the first to make the idea
It is hardly surprising that Delius was drawn to writing for
strings. They offer a naturally long seamlessly lyrical line,
grace and passion, allure and mystery; one of the closest instrumental
approximations to the human voice yet liberated from the limitations
of breath control.
While there are some Delius works for piano including an early
concerto the string family predominates. Three numbered violin
sonatas are joined by an unnumbered one. There are three concertos
as well as a Legend (violin) and several small genre pieces.
To these can be added two Romances, one for violin, the other
for cello as well as the one-movement Cello Sonata (surely begging
for a sensitive orchestration). The history of these works is
bound up with that of the Harrison sisters and specifically
Beatrice (1892-1965), the cellist and May (1890-1959), the violinist.
Frederick and Jelka Delius owe their meeting with the sisters
to the Brahms Double Concerto which between 1910 and 1914 they
performed throughout Europe. Delius heard one of these concerts
in Manchester in December 1914; it left an indelible impression.
He immediately began to write a Double Concerto for them. The
dedication names the two sisters. When the score was delivered
they told him that the cello line was unplayable. He took this
in good part and within three months had rewritten it with assistance
from Philip Heseltine and further editing by the sisters. Meantime
the German invasion of France drove the Deliuses from their
home at Grez-sur-Loing to London. They were not able to return
until 1919. The Double Concerto was completed in 1916. The first
performance, which was given by the dedicatees, took place on
20 February 1920 in the Queen's Hall, London when the conductor
was Henry Wood. This is far from the end of the Harrison connection.
Delius’s Cello Concerto - his favourite of the four -
was dedicated to Beatrice and is heard here as edited by Beecham
and Fenby. Although the first performance was given in Vienna
in January 1923 by Alexandre Barjansky, Beatrice gave the UK
premiere in London in July that year with Eugene Goossens conducting.
In 1930 May Harrison was invited to Grez to play the Violin
Sonata No. 3 which the ailing Delius had completed with the
Fenby’s help. Her playing made such an impression that
the work was instantly dedicated to her. Margaret Harrison,
the youngest of the sisters, had assisted May and Beatrice in
their on the editing of his Double Concerto. She performed the
violin sonatas and the Violin Concerto which was dedicated to
Albert Sammons who also recorded it.
The Delius Cello Sonata is dedicated to Beatrice Harrison who
premiered it in 1918 in London with Hamilton Harty. Tragically
there were to be no commercial recordings of the Harrisons playing
the Cello Concerto or the Double Concerto; a pity that no radio
recordings appear to survive either. Beatrice did however record
the Caprice and Elegy which was also dedicated to her.
This was made in 1930 for HMV. The conductor was Delius’s
amanuensis, Eric Fenby who in later years warmly recalled May
Harrison’s playing of unaccompanied Bach at Grez.
In death the Delius-Harrison association continues. The composer
was buried in the churchyard at St Peter's, Limpsfield in Surrey.
This is also the last resting place of the four Harrison sisters:
Beatrice, Margaret, May and Monica. Not only that; here also
are buried the remains of Sir Thomas Beecham, Delius's lifelong
champion as well as those of Norman Del Mar, Beecham protégé
and gifted Delius conductor. Limpsfield is not far from Foyle
Riding where famously Beatrice played duets with nightingales
on warm summer evenings.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis - who is no
stranger to Delius - have already released one Chandos Delius
disc this year (CHSA5088
- Appalachia and The Song of the High Hills).
The present disc is a very fine second volume featuring Tasmin
Little. She has over the years taken an in-depth and passionate
interest in Delius; witness her Delius TV documentary centred
on his time in the Florida orange groves. In 1991 she famously
recorded the Violin Concerto for Decca (review
as part of another cycle that deserves issue as a boxed set:
Welsh National Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras; that 8 CD set
is due to be issued by Decca in November on 4783078. At about
the same time she was heard, courtesy of EMI, alongside Raphael
Wallfisch in the Double Concerto, again a Mackerras project,
this time with the RLPO. That disc was, strangely enough, never
issued at full price. It emerged first on CD-EMX2185 EMI Eminence
then reissued on CFP (review).
She has also recorded a very fine set of the sonatas (review
These fresh new recordings have all the usual warmth but add
to it a perhaps dangerous clarity. After all shouldn’t
there be shimmer and haze - latent suggestion rather than patent
assertion. In fact the enchantment emerges intact and very satisfying.
I love the Double Concerto and note Michael Cookson’s
preference for the the vinyl recording played by Yehudi Menuhin
Tortelier with the RPO under Meredith Davies on HMV ASD
3343. It was later reissued on CD (CDM 7 63022). It’s
certainly entrancingly done and Davies (who also recorded A
Village Romeo and Juliet in the 1970s) has the manner to a tee.
However the orchestra seems distant by comparison with the Chandos.
Also it’s in a single indigestible track of 21:50 rather
like the still impressive though very ancient first ever recording
by Raymond Cohen (violin) and Gerald Warburg who funded the
Pye Golden Guinea Collector Series LP GSGC14073 in the
mid-1960s. It runs to 21:28. He also paid for elite Beecham-scions the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra and Beecham protégé Norman Del Mar.
It’s a splendid version but again time marches on and
the sound of the orchestra cannot compare with the Chandos.
Still if you want to hear it you can do so through an early
CD transfer on PRT PVCD8372. The Wallfisch/Little places the two soloists
well and with some parity but the orchestral backdrop is quite
Lloyd-Webber’s pretty splendidly done RCA recording (review
of the Cello Concerto is from the early 1980s with the Philharmonia
conducted by Handley. Here the cello sounds so much warmer and
languid than that of Paul Watkins. The concerto runs to all
of 26:38 against Watkins’ and Davis’s 21:23. Both
Watkins and Lloyd-Webber will have played the work as they felt
it - which the composer enjoined soloists to do. I have not
heard the Dupré version.
Tasmin Little has recorded the Violin Concerto for the second
time here. Her quicksilver way remains very moving and exciting.
If you prefer a more statuesque way then opt for Philippe Djokic’s
version for Naxos as part of their Tintner Edition. (8.557242)
or the ancient recording by Robert Gerle (Westminster) through
which I discovered the work. The most vibrant, gravid and full-lipped
version I ever heard came from a Prom circa 1982 with Ida Haendel
and the BBCSO conducted by Rozhdestvensky. This was later issued
as part of the now long-gone BBC Radio series of CDs. Little
is somewhat faster than the Ralph Holmes disc which was made
as part of the Fenby-Unicorn series though in Holmes’
case the conductor was Vernon Handley. Again Holmes is well
worth hearing as he is presented in really good sound in a particularly
impulsive and spontaneous reading. He takes just over a minute
longer than Little.
All of that said we are drawn ineluctably back to the cogent
coupling and finely performed and recorded readings of Delius’s
three concertos for stringed instruments.
see also review by Ian
Lace (November 2011 Recording of the Month)