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

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Sea Drift (1904)
Paris - Song of a Great City (1899)
In a Summer Garden (1911)
A Song of Summer (1930)
Summer Night on the River (1911)
The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1900)
Cello Sonata (1916)
A Song of the High Hills (1912)
Hassan - Intermezzo and Serenade (1920)
A Song before Sunrise

Air and Dance (1915)
La Calinda - Koanga (1897)
John Shirley-Quirk (bar)
London Symphony Chorus
RPO/Richard Hickox (Sea Drift)
London SO/Anthony Collins (Paris; Garden; Summer; Paradise)
Julian Lloyd Webber/Bengt Forsberg (sonata)
Rebecca Evans (sop)
Peter Hoare (ten)
Orchestra and Chorus, Welsh National Opera/Charles Mackerras (High Hills)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner (Hassan; Sunrise; Air; Calinda)
rec Oct 1953, Kingsway Hall (Paris; Summer; Summer Night); Feb 1953 (Paradise); Apr 1980 (Drift); Abbey Rd, Sept 1996 (Caprice; Elegy); Brangwyn Hall, Swansea (High Hills); St Johns Smith Sq, London (Marriner) ADD/DDD
DECCA British Music Collection 470 375-2 [2CDs: 151.56]


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For a series of comparatively modern recordings you would do well to consider this non-Beecham selection. It makes even more sense to consider this with the other Delius single disc from the DECCA British Music Collection 470 190-2. All the familiar works are here. But how well has the selection from the Universal archives worked? Note that these discs derive from Decca and Philips. There is no sign of a DG contingent but then DG was never a strong Delius contender despite the German championship Delius was blessed by in the early 1900s.

Decca's Hickox Sea Drift gets better each time I hear it. The last time was when it was issued with Appalachia (its original LP coupling from about 1977) on an Australian Eloquence CD. Here its weighty cradling momentum seems totally compelling and while John Shirley-Quirk is not as richly toned as say Brian Rayner Cook or Stephen Savidge he gives an extremely fine performance. In terms of recorded sound Hickox was served even better by Chandos in his early 1990s re-recording with Songs of Sunset and Songs of Farewell. Beecham is in a class of his own but if you hanker for a change from the Beecham orthodoxy then this recording will suit you very well.

At the same time you will be able to sample the interpretations of Anthony Collins. Collins’ Sibelius symphonies on Beulah (deleted but still well worth finding) are very highly regarded. His Delius is not quite in the same league though he does have new and useful things to tell us. For example he finds more cackling grand Guignol in Paris than I recall from others. His In a Summer Garden has a good steady pulse (6.25). The two Summer poems and Delius's famous Paradise-wards Walk all have their merits and nothing is out of place. However the sound is getting pretty antique now. Let's remember that these recordings were the Delius staple of the Decca budget Eclipse LPs (mono and electronically-fangled stereo) in the early 1970s! The sound is at its nadir in Paris. It is not a patch on the Decca-Sibelius-Kingsway tapes made at about the same time.

Shortly after these sessions Collins moved to Hollywood and film scores and composition. Will we never hear anything of his apart from Vanity Fair? There are two symphonies for strings which I expect to be well worth everyone's trouble.

After almost an hour of early 1950s sound it is like opening the windows on a summer morning to hear Lloyd Webber and Forsberg (always powerful and alive with considered insights as we also recently found in his Nystroem/Hellekant song recital on Big Ben). Delius's sonata is shapely and full of soulful song. Lloyd Webber has, I believe, recorded this before, for Unicorn, but this Philips version is fine in its own right with all the grandeur of a sunrise in broadest splendour in the final moments. This is one of the Delius works to play sight unseen to those who claim to be allergic to Delius. It should win converts.

It is very unfortunate that in compiling this twofer Decca did not draw off more (or indeed all) from the Welsh National Opera orchestral sessions run for Decca by Charles Mackerras in the 1990s. We are treated to a strong Song of the High Hills from that series (a useful supplement to the Fenby Unicorn recording) and in the companion disc the WNO/Mackerras are joined by Tasmin Little in the Violin Concerto. We could have done with more Mackerras and less Collins. A major work and one of my 'Desert Island' choices in the Delius canon.

Marriner's line-up of five brevities makes me regret all the more that the sort of augmentation the ASMIF enjoyed for the Walton film music series (Chandos) was not applied to create a Delius orchestral cycle. Marriner really is a surprisingly sensitive Delian and here confounds expectations based on his recentish English music recital for Philips (Bax November Woods and Bridge Enter Spring - among others). Some ripely pert trumpet work (3.02) in La Calinda typifies Marriner's Delian gold.

Only relevant to Sea Drift (vocalisation only in Song of the High Hills) but no sung texts are provided in the booklet.

A mixed bag then: About an hour of decent and highly individual interpretations by Collins though in regrettable mono sound. The rest is much stronger. Sea Drift and Song of the High Hills are richly enjoyable as also is the Cello Sonata. Marriner's Delius is top-flight.

Rob Barnett

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