> DELIUS North Country sketches: Beecham [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)

North Country Sketches (1914)
In a Summer Garden - Rhapsody (1913)
Appalachia (1902)
RPO/Sir Thomas Beecham
Rec EMI Studio 1, 14 Feb 1949 (Sketches); 27 Oct 1951 (Garden); 29 Oct, 6 Nov, 7, 13 Dec 1952 (Appalachia) mono ADD
SONY SMK 89429 [70.47]



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With the exception of a handful of HMV/EMI tapes the best sounding and latest Beecham-Delius recordings have been in the hands of CBS (now Sony) and before that with Fontana and Philips in the days of LP. I am not sure about In a Summer Garden but certainly the Sketches and Appalachia were available on CBS mid-price LPs in the early 1970s. Strange how, while the EMI-Beecham tapes have rarely been out of the catalogue, the CBS/Sonys have constantly dipped in and out of the retailers' shelves. About a year months ago the rarest item - Beecham's Mass of Life was issued and is still around to be snapped up in a delectable 2-disc version. At the same time a single CD anthology was also issued. This present issue was announced as part of a ‘suite’ of Beecham releases alongside a recital of Berlioz overtures and two Mozart symphony discs.

Beecham's sympathy for Delius's hazy shimmering magic is fully on display in the Sketches which are a degree or two chillier as befits their moorland origins and, while we associate Delius with warmer climes (his despising attitude to his native heath is well enough known), we can link this work with his Nordic group including Eventyr and Paa Vidderne. The bleaker sections of Autumn, the wind soughs among the trees bring us face to face with the sounds we hear in Arthur Butterworth's Moorland Symphony, Hadley’s The Hills and in the bleaker Bax of Northern Ballad No. 2. I have always loved this work and am extremely pleased that it has reappeared on CD. When arranging concerts do not forget that this is one of those works that is in four movements with each allocated to a season. Imaginative programme planners could do worse than group Bridge's Summer, Panufnik's Autumn, Foulds April-England and Wilfred Josephs' Symphony No. 7 Winter, around this work. The present recording was also previously issued in the early 1990s on SONY's British pageant series (SMK58934) with Over the Hills, Eventyr and the closing scene from Koanga (a shorter - by about 8 minutes - and less substantial collection than the present offering).

The other two Beecham works derive from tapes which appear here on CD for the first time. The honey warm idyll of In a Summer Garden is less sensuously pagan than Bax's Spring Fire but the dew-drop descending figures are similar. The last time I heard this Beecham-Delius Appalachia was when I bought CBS LP 61354 in circa 1974. Both Appalachia and Garden are smooth sounding with hiss largely eliminated. The 78 master origins of the Sketches is proclaimed by the busy, though hardly intrusive, surfaces. Appalachia sounds superb and its first ten minutes will conquer any doubts you may have about this version - just listen to track 6 at 3.40 to the sound of the magically jangling counterpoint of the banjo-evocation (echoing from his time in Florida) rising to a wonderfully sustained climax. In the finale the tenor's slightly mannered delivery is offset by the glories of the choral singing in what must be the briefest role for a choir in a work that plays for circa 35 minutes. It is archetypical of the theme of transience, ephemeral glory and passing time that Delius should set the words Oh honey I am going down the river in the morning. Much the same sense can be felt and experienced in the closing scene of A Village Romeo And Juliet as the two lovers are carried down the river to the ecstasy that is oblivion. This is also in the same spirit as Sea Drift which embraces loss - hymning its glory in the setting of the sun.

Sony do not say so on the outside of the jewel case but these performances are, of course, in mono though such a 'shortcoming' is totally outweighed by the myriad glistening dimensions which Beecham bring to all this music.

The exceptionally informative (English only) booklet note is by Graham Melville-Mason. SONY are to be congratulated for their design decisions on the series. Their superbly detailed typography and black on white approach defeats the clever-clever design gurus whose efforts often undermine those who write notes for CD booklets. Beecham's famed sensitivity and response to nuance is in full spate here. All that is missing is modern stereo sound. Such a pity that Norman del Mar (a Beecham disciple) never recorded Appalachia. Barbirolli is good too but Hickox is rather too fosued on grandeur at the expense of sensitivity.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Stephen Lloyd


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