Delius for the piano? It was not his chosen medium of
expression. The Piano Concerto is the least successful of his
four concertos. His avocation was the orchestra. Pianists looking
for a 'fix' who are also Delians can be thankful that he wrote
a handful of piano pieces and that others have made arrangements
of orchestral pieces.
Charles Abramovic is a most sympathetic interpreter for these
stylish and unemphatic pieces. The sing-song impressionistic
hallmarks are there to be heard. Take the Mazurka from the Five
Piano Pieces [tr 5] as an example. Although by no means as skilled
and imaginative as Debussy there are moments when Delius does
sound close to the French master. By the way, Abramovic is joined
by Davyd Booth (violin) with his slightly reedy tone in Lullaby
for a modern baby. The Five Pieces finish with an
eager little Toccata whose brightness reminded me of
the more ecstatic moments from the North Country Sketches.
Zum Carnival, a memento of his Florida plantation days
of the 1890s, reeks more of the Viennese dance hall than the
orange grove. Pensées Mélodieuses is florid
but raises itself only a little above the salon's pleasant ramparts.
Much the same can be said of Valse (1890), Reverie
and Badinage although the latter two have some spicy
harmonic twists - especially Reverie. The Presto Leggiero
owes something to the lighter Tchaikovsky of The Seasons.
We are into mature Delius, as arranged by no less than Ravel,
in the two extracts from the verismo shocker Margot la Rouge
- the fifth of his operas (the first four had vocal scores arranged
by Florent Schmitt). This is well worth hearing and as music
stands tall in the current company: reticent and suffused with
It is momentarily disorientating to encounter well loved pieces
such as the gentle Cuckoo in piano apparel. Gerard Bunk
(does anyone know who he is or was please?) made the excellently
balanced arrangement. In fact it works far better than Philip
Heseltine's (i.e. Peter Warlock's) transcription of In a
Summer Garden which comes across as rather four-square and
leaden. Warlock idolised Delius. He was not perhaps equal to
the very demanding task of successfully transmuting the elusive
orchestral skein into an essentially percussive instrument.
People will know the complete Florida Suite from the
Beecham (EMI) version with Sir Thomas's editorial retouchings.
Because it is early Delius it adapts quite well and in Plantation
Dance rises to a splendid climax. The disc plays out with
the suite's Grieg-like Nocturne which is more of an evening
piece. For me it is evocative of a warm late evening with couples
sauntering through softly lit streets and promenades. The skilled
transcriptions are by Delius scholar Robert Threlfall who also
furnishes the rewarding notes.
The cover uses a photograph of St John's River from Solano Grove
Charles Abramovic (who has recorded Babbitt and Schwantner for
CRI) is a subtle and sensitive artist and his Steinway has been
sympathetically captured by DTR's Bob Sellman.
A de rigueur purchase for Delius aficionados. It will
also be a draw for those wishing to sample little known pieces
of arranging and transcription by Ravel and by Peter Warlock.
General interest may be limited but for those who opt to purchase
there will be few disappointments provided your expectations
of the music are not impossibly high. Everything is as you would
expect from a production backed by the Delius Society of Philadelphia.
The Society and DTR are well served by Mr Abramovic. The gem
is Bunk's Cuckoo arrangement.