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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Sea Drift
Songs of Farewell
Songs of Sunset
Sally Burgess (soprano); Bryn Terfel (baritone)
Waynflete Singers; Southern Voices
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Richard Hickox
Rec 27-28 February 1993, Wessex Hall, Poole Arts Centre
CHANDOS CHAN 9214 [77.08]

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No conductor of recent times has carried the flag for British music with as much purpose as Richard Hickox. This Chandos reissue of his hugely successful recording of Delius orchestral-choral works made a strong impression when it appeared in the early 1990s, and its return nearly ten years later is no less welcome. In fact the received critical opinion placed these performances as 'the best since Beecham': high praise indeed for a disc which also won a Gramophone Award.

Listening to the disc again, it is not hard to understand the enthusiasm. Hickox has a real feeling for this repertoire, and his phrasing is lovingly shaped. For example, the opening bars of Sea Drift are quite beautifully expressed, with excellent playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Like the other British regional orchestras, the BSO is best described as an international orchestra which happens to be based in the regions.

All this is enhanced by the sympathetic Chandos sound, so that the climactic moments emerge naturally from the ebb and flow of the musical line. Since the Delius style is subtle and deliberately avoids established formulae, this feature is particularly important. As we have come to expect, Bryn Terfel is in glorious voice, and the solo part in Sea Drift suits him admirably. My only complaint, if complaint it is, concerns the lack of separate cue points in Sea Drift (they are there in the other pieces). Admittedly Sea Drift is composed in one unbroken span of 25 minutes, but it does move through various phases and the option of finding the various sections more easily might have been helpful.

In the Songs of Sunset Sally Burgess makes an excellent companion soloist to Terfel, although the pair of them are placed too far forward in the sound perspective. This approach simply does not suit the nature of the music. But here and in the Songs of Farewell the choral singing is admirable, and offers ample subtlety and beauty of tone.

Andrew Burn, in his perceptive accompanying essay, explains that Delius defined form as the 'imparting of spiritual unity to one's thought', and that quotation captures the essence of both the Songs of Sunset and Songs of Farewell. Indeed the very titles of these pieces express the special late-romantic yearning which is their spiritual and expressive priority.

The Songs of Farewell were among the compositions which were completed around 1930 by the blind and ailing Delius with the help of his amanuensis Eric Fenby, and Burn rightly claims them to be the finest fruit of this collaboration. How fitting then that the final passionate climax should subside to an ending in which the imagery is the peaceful evocation of the departing soul.

Terry Barfoot


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