With the first ever recording of an orchestral version of five
songs from the Norwegian this disc will sell to Delians at a rate of knots.
The earlier Danacord Delius collection (Danish works), again under Holten,
did extremely well. Jesper Buhl seems to have the Glückliche Hand.
The songs are idiomatically orchestrated. I compare
this with the Chandos Finzi song orchestrations where (I think, quite
deliberately) the orchestration by five different hands were out of
sympathy with Finzi’s approach. Mr Holten has already done superb and
composer-faithful arranging and orchestration work for Danacord's last
Nielsen collection (Commotio, Violin Sonata and songs). He does
not disappoint here either. The songs are given a florid operatic edge
by the vibrantly voiced Bonde-Hansen. While many of the songs have a
serenade character (as in Slumber Song which parallels Grieg's
Last Spring) several, pre-eminently Longing, take us into
the heady realms of grand dramatics - a touch of Mahler here.
Sleigh Ride (well known to Beechamites from
the EMI catalogue) comes over very well but Eventyr less so.
It has probably never been so well recorded but here it seems to me
to lack narrative momentum and direction. The two goblin shouts - particularly
the second one which combines a wail and a grunting howl have the requisite
troll quality. The xylophone clatter presages the Torture procession
(The March of Protracted Death!) from Delius's music for Hassan
- the play by James Elroy Flecker. If Eventyr is your
primary interest then try the Beecham version on Sony SMK58934 or the
earlier version on Naxos 8.110904. Other more recent versions include
the very satisfying Handley (don't underestimate his Delius) on Classics
Recordings of Song of the High Hills are not
plentiful. I have not heard the Mackerras but I do know the mono Beecham
version on EMI (what a pity he did not include this work in his 1950s
Delius series for CBS/Fontana). I also have the perceptive and highly
poetic Unicorn version which is part of the Fenby Edition though you
may have difficulty in finding it now (by the way it is about time someone
liberated the Unicorn, Collins and Conifer catalogues - come on folks!).
Holten and Danacord bring us closer to the choir and soloists perhaps
at the expense of atmosphere but the immanent enchantment is not lost.
There are many provocative and subtle touches including at 12.43 a refined
string quality that is both slender and silvery and the most liquid
flute playing. In short this is a completely recommendable version of
Delius's visionary dream of the high mountains and of the awed immediacy
of mortality and transience that these high realms provoke.