Delius offers no official programme for ‘Paris - Song
of a Great City’ but describes in a letter dated 10th December
1910 that, "it is a nocturne and describes my impressions of night
and early dawn with its particular street cries … These cries are very
characteristic of Paris and the piece begins and closes with them."
Even though ‘Paris’ is an early Delius work we hear
all his trademark musical qualities. This is a subtle impressionist
tone picture, generally contemplative with atmospheric tranquillity
interspersed with exciting episodes of bold emotions.
Sir Charles Mackerras on this CFP re-release seems
to bring out Delius’s early Straussian influences particularly in the
forte passages, turning the impressionist atmosphere on and off throughout
the work. The sound quality is more than acceptable with a wide dynamic
There is a fair amount of competition for this digital
CFP recording. Selected comparisons include a remastered Sony 1955 mono
recording SBK 62748, with the RPO, under Sir Thomas Beecham, which is
well regarded although many prefer his earlier 1934 account. Undoubtedly
the most satisfactory of them all and my preferred choice is a 1993
recording by the BBC SO under Andrew Davis on Teldec digital 4509-90845-2
on ‘The British Line’ series. Davis’s reading displays the work more
as an impressionist piece from start to finish and could be said to
be more Delian in character. The sound from the Teldec engineers is
of demonstration quality.
Delius was inspired to write the double concerto after
hearing a 1914 performance of the Brahms concerto for violin and cello
played by the young virtuoso sisters May and Beatrice Harrison, to whom
Delius dedicated the work and consulted on its composition. This is
one of Delius’s four concertos and they have all been described more
as rhapsodies owing to their concise duration and continuous single
movement structure. The double concerto displays much of the composer’s
individuality, comprising many differing melodic ideas presented in
a rather agitated manner, yet the work has an appealing robustness and
remains one of my favourite Delius works.
My preferred version of the double concerto is the
vinyl recording played by Yehudi Menuhin and Paul Tortelier with the
RPO under Meredith Davies on HMV ASD 3343. The benefit of world class
soloists in their prime is a clear advantage with heartfelt interpretations
of a work that they clearly love, combined with a marvellous sound quality.
The CFP soloists Tasmin Little and Raphael Wallfisch
give a warm and thoroughly professional performance with just the correct
amount of emotional sensitivity without any temptation to wallow in
the lush passages. Sir Charles Mackerras is a passionate Delian and
directs the RLPO with just a shade more urgency than Meredith Davies
and his RPO.
The cello concerto was Delius’s own personal favourite
of his four concertos, due mainly to its melodic invention. Written
in 1921 it was the last work that Delius was able to compose in his
own hand before illness crippled him. Intended for Beatrice Harrison
to perform, the actual premiere was given by the Russian cellist Alexandre
Barjansky in 1923, in Vienna, although Harrison was to later give the
first British performance. The concerto is a predominantly pastoral
and dreamy work, not lacking however in invention, although some critics
have commented on the rather meandering nature of the work. Sir Charles
Mackerras the conductor and the soloist have followed Delius’s intention
by not playing the independent final section as slow as it is frequently
performed, thus providing the necessary contrast to the other movements.
Cellist Raphael Wallfisch is very much at one with this work and provides
the appropriate empathy in a beautiful and rather pleasing performance.
The competition for the cello concerto includes an
excellent 1962 performance from a young Jacqueline du Pré, with
the RPO, under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent on EMI CDC 5 555 29-2.
A particular favourite is a version played by Julian Lloyd Webber, with
Vernon Handley conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, from 1983 on RCA
RS-9010. The same performance is available on Lloyd Webber’s recital
CD ‘Celebration’ on BMG 74321 8411 22.
It is good to have this CFP recording from 1991 available
again in the catalogues and at a super bargain price. Each of the three
works excellently played and recorded here have strong individual competition;
particularly Andrew Davis’s performance with the BBC SO on Teldec, of
‘Paris - Song of a Great City’, which I feel is a far superior version.
This recording on CFP was highly regarded when first released and is
still recommendable today.