> Delius in Norway [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Frederick Delius in Norway

The British Symphonic Collection: Vol.8
Symphonic Poem: On the Mountains
Seven Songs from the Norwegian

Norwegian Bridal Procession by Grieg, orchestrated by Delius
Melodrama: Paa Vidderne
Jan Lund (tenor)
Peter Hall (narrator)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
Recorded in Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on 3, 4, & 7 August 2000

Disc no longer available

A fascinating disc (all but the symphonic poem being world premiere recordings) in the ever-burgeoning series of unknown British symphonic music conducted by Douglas Bostock. One suspects however that the music has been rediscovered and selected at the instigation of the indefatigable Lewis Foreman. This is music written by Fritz Delius (before the change of name to Frederick - a change he made in 1902) under the age of thirty while studying in Leipzig between 1886 and 1888. In the summer of that middle year he made a walking tour to Norway and in no time at all got to know Grieg and his wife as well as Sinding and Halvorsen (ten years later Ibsen was another). This is all before the time when Beecham or Wood championed him, no amanuensis Eric Fenby on the horizon, and above all no paralysis and blindness.

Images of him at this time remind one of the young Elgar, dashing and handsomely moustachioed, whilst the music has a distinctly un-Delian style as epitomised by such later works as Walk to the Paradise Garden, Sea Drift and so on, which makes it the more intriguing. On the Mountains has Straussian melodies and is lushly orchestrated, not heard between 1894 and 1946 when Beecham revived it for the 1946 London Delius Festival. The seven songs were originally conceived in German and for piano and voice, though Delius did orchestrate two of them. Beecham subsequently did another two, R Sondheimer scored one for the Festival referred to, and for the purposes of this recording Anthony Payne has done a couple, as stylishly as his realisation of Elgar Symphony No.3. The Danish Jan Lund’s lightweight tenor voice is quaintly old-fashioned with its fast vibrato, and although he may be stretched and given to spreading at climaxes such as in Hidden love, it is still attractively expressive, despite being given to intrusive diphthongs on his ‘a’ vowels, in a way reminiscent of Kim Borg, the bass inexplicably chosen by Barbirolli for his recording of Gerontius. Lund’s approach even infects the ‘old fashioned’ orchestral style of playing in these charming songs such as string portamento.

The Norwegian Bridal Procession was the second of three short piano pieces by Grieg, orchestrated by Delius in 1888. It’s a cheerful, rustic piece of music resulting from Delius witnessing such an event, and is the only example of Delius’s orchestration of music by another composer. In Paa Vidderne the narrator Peter Hall (not the theatre director but a lutenist with a fine speaking voice) would have a hard time of it in a concert hall to overcome the full sound of a symphony orchestra (even Grieg warned Delius of the problem) and one suspects there may have been much cringing during the recording sessions, for though fairly topical at the end of the 19th century this is a style of declamatory melodrama we are not used to these days. There are times when the text of Ibsen’s nine-part narrative poem might have been penned by Barbara Cartland, but it must be seen to be full of metaphors and not to be taken at face value (literally a description of a young man’s departure from his mother’s home to undertake a testing journey through the desolate wilderness of heather and rocks of the high mountainous plateau of southern Norway, ‘the bleakest, wildest place I [Delius] ever saw’). Frankly there is much fine music here and at times one wishes the speaker would simply go away and leave one alone to listen to it. It also makes one wonder how much of it would have been heard in performance in days before amplification (even on this CD he is not always audible), but as it took until 1981, and a television production, before it was first played (in Norway) followed by its British premiere in 1984, it probably has never failed in that regard. It is glorious music and the RLPO play it for all it is worth, while Peter Hall synchronises Lionel Carley’s English translation to perfection, an essential feature of these melodramas. It may be an impractical proposition to perform it but at the very least one should be grateful to have this fine account.

Christopher Fifield

The British Symphonic Collection

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