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Frederick DELIUS (1862- 1934)
Orchestral works Vol.2
The Walk to the Paradise Garden*
Sea Drift+
from Fennimore and Gerda +
In a Summer Garden +
Over the Hills and Far Away +

John Brownlee (baritone)
London Select Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Thomas Beecham
recorded Fyvie Hall, London, Dec 1927+ recorded Abbey Rd. London, April, September and October 1936
NAXOS Great Conductors series 8.110905 [62.42]
Crotchet    Amazon UK    Amazon US

Like many people, I first became fully aware of Frederick Delius after watching the famous Ken Russell film about the composer. That awareness was intensified when I had the experience of playing and recording Delius under a great exponent of his music, Barbirolli, though I knew that it was another English conductor, Beecham, who was regarded as the greatest interpreter of Delius.

This CD is simply further confirmation of that reputation. These are all, in their way, wonderful performances. The earliest item on the disc is the 1926 version of The Walk to the Paradise Garden, and it was this recording that was played on the BBC news when the announcement was made of Delius' death in 1934. Though the sound is inevitably poor (though not especially bad given its age), the quality of the conducting is easy to appreciate, as is that of the orchestral playing. One player in particular shines out here as in all the other tracks - Léon Goossens, Beecham's first oboe. His beauty of sound and sheer musicianship was at the heart of so many Beecham performances of Delius and other composers.

Sea Drift is a work that Beecham rated amongst Delius' very finest, and it comes across powerfully in this 1936 version. The singer is the Australian baritone, John Brownlee, whose splendid voice and impeccable diction make him an ideal soloist. Just at the very end there is a hint of tiredness, otherwise this is a commanding reading. The London Select Choir sing with conviction and excellent ensemble.

The Intermezzo from Fennimore and Gerda is now a popular concert item, but it's interesting to discover from the booklet accompanying this disc that this was its first ever performance. This and the delightful In a Summer Garden are notable for the superb woodwind playing, again, in particular, the oboe playing of Goossens. Over the Hills and Far Away is an early work, whose more energetic character makes it a welcome foil to the generally reflective music of the rest of this programme.

The recordings have been transferred lovingly and successfully. As one would expect, there are occasional glitches owing to surface imperfections in the original 78s. But this doesn't stop the magic and the authority of Beecham's readings coming through clearly.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

See also review by Rob Barnett

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