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Symphonic Poem On the Mountains; Seven Songs from the Norwegian; Melodrama Paa Vidderne
orch. DELIUS
Norwegian Bridal Procession.

Jan Lund (tenor), Peter Hall (narrator)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Douglas Bostock.
Classico CLASSCD 364 [79.52 ]
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The eighth in Classico's enterprising series collectively entitled 'The British Symphonic Collection' concentrates on the least British of the composers so far included: Frederick Delius. Although Bradford born, Delius's life was spent mostly abroad, in Florida (ostensibly managing a citrus plantation), studying briefly in Leipzig (the most significant result being the friendships he made with Grieg and other Norwegian artists), and France, where he eventually married and settled at Grez-sur-Loing. If Florida and Negro harmonies inspired such works as the Florida Suite, Appalachia, and the operas The Magic Fountain and Koanga, Delius had a great fondness for Scandinavia, and Norway in particular, which was to be his spiritual home. It was on summer holidays in Norway that he planned many a work which would be completed later at home in France.

The works on this CD, all inspired by Norway, were composed between 1888 and 1892, before Delius was 30. The most substantial is the melodrama Paa Vidderne, a forty-minute narration with orchestra of a poem by Ibsen in nine sections, subtitled 'On the High Mountains', an important if youthful work. This first commercial recording is greatly to be welcomed. It fills a gap in Delius's recorded oeuvre that is probably unfamiliar even to many Delius enthusiasts. Delius's friendship with Grieg and the latter's melodrama Bergliot (1885) more than likely provided the inspiration for Paa Vidderne (1888). Delius must have identified closely with the hero of the poem who rejects his own home and its conventional life and, with Nietzschean parallels ('Men lose themselves in the valley'), seeks the solitude of the mountain heights and steels himself for his higher artistic calling. The work was not performed in Delius's life-time and remained largely unknown until in 1981 the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation presented it as a television film with Charles Farncombe conducting the Oslo Philharmonic and with Svein Sturla Hungnes narrating (in Norwegian). It had its first public performance in February 1984 when Allan Hendrick was the narrator (in English), Leslie Head conducting the Kensington Symphony Orchestra. Later that year Sir Charles Groves gave it at the Cheltenham Festival (with the original narrator), and more recently, in June 1994, there was a broadcast performance (repeated in February 1995) with Vernon Handley conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with Simon Ward narrating. In this recording, using Lionel Carley's English translation, Peter Hall is expressively and boldly dramatic in his declamation of the text. There are moments of great beauty and power that make one wonder how such a work can have been neglected for so long.

The first item on this CD, the orchestral tone-poem Paa Vidderne, here referred to by its alternative title On the Mountains to avoid confusion with the melodrama of the same name, is, frankly, inferior Delius but nonetheless fascinating to hear, if only to follow Delius's development to maturity, especially alongside the markedly superior Over the Hills and Far Away of 1897. It was his first orchestral work to receive public performance, at Christiania (Oslo) in 1891, and it was heard again at Monte Carlo in 1894. The manuscript's dating of 1892 possibly suggests that changes were made after its first reading. It was then not heard again until Beecham put it in his second (1946) Delius Festival. At that time he also recorded the work, but his recording remained unissued until it was included in the second World Records Delius-Beecham boxed set (SHB54; CD reissue CDM 7 64054-2). The work's only other modern recording was for Marco Polo (8.220452, Slovak Philharmonic O, John Hopkins). The indefatigable Leslie Head conducted it at St. John's, Smith Square, in March 1974 (broadcast by Radio London in 1974 and rebroadcast in 1977). More recently, in December 1994, there was a BBC Radio 3 performance, with Barry Wordsworth conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra.

The seven Songs from the Norwegian were composed between 1889 and 1890 for voice and piano (six of the poems had in fact been previously set by Grieg). Here they are recorded for the first time in orchestral dress, two of the orchestrations being by Delius, two by Beecham, one by Sondheimer, and - to complete the set - two recently by Anthony Payne, a composer with strong sympathies for Delius as well as for Elgar, Bax, Bridge and others of that generation. Only four of the orchestral versions had been previously recorded, by Beecham and Fenby, who both used female singers. The soloist on this complete set is a tenor, thus necessitating a few transpositions, and Jan Lund gives a most expressive rendering of the songs, skilfully underlining the meaning of the text without mannerism or exaggeration. Just in one or two places does his voice sound a little strained. The opening bars of Hidden Love surely betray the orchestrator of Elgar's Third Symphony: with their serious tone they could almost have come from the slow movement - or does hindsight make one too wise ? And his treatment of The Minstrel is especially effective, too, with its use of harp and the magical horn note at the end, surely suggestive of the water-spirit of the poem.

One other item that makes this CD essential to any Delian collection is Grieg's Norwegian Bridal Procession as orchestrated by Delius in December 1889. In his Grieg and Delius: A Chronicle of their Friendship in Letters (Marion Boyars, 1993), Lionel Carley suggests that this may have been intended as a Christmas gift to Grieg but it is not known whether the manuscript exchanged hands as Halvorsen's orchestration of 1903 is the one generally heard today. Without being able to make a side-by-side comparison of the two, Delius's seems a most effective orchestral realisation of what is now a familiar piece.

Douglas Bostock brings off convincing performances with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, more especially so when rehearsal time is often short for unfamiliar repertoire. The recording lacks just a little in clarity and definition; the balance between voice and orchestra is not always ideal. But this does not detract from enjoying a most enterprising and important CD. I expect that there will be many listeners experiencing the thrill of the Norwegian heights through repeated hearings of Paa Vidderne.

Stephen Lloyd

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