> Frederick Delius - Norwegian Masterworks [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
The Song of the High Hills (1911-12) [25.58]
Eventyr - Once upon a time (1915-17) [15.20]
Sleigh Ride (1887 orch 1889) [5.49]
Five Songs from the Norwegian (orch. Bo HOLTEN)†: Slumber Song (Bjørnsterne Bjørnsen) [3.53]; The Nightingale (Theodor Kjerulf) [2.44]; Summer Eve (Johan Paulsen) [3.37]; Longing (Theodor Kjerulf) [3.19]; Sunset (Andreas Munch) [5.00]
Henriette Bonde-Hansen (sop) †
John Kjøller (ren); Helle Høyer Hansen (sop); Aarhus University Choir; Hummerkoret; Aarhus Chamber Choir ‡
Aarhus SO/Bo Holten
rec: 19-23 May 2001, Frichsparken, Aarhus DDD

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 for Pleasure.

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.

Rob Barnett

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