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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Paris - Song of a Great City, for orchestra (1899) [21:49]
Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra (1915-16) [20:29]
Concerto for cello and orchestra (1921) [21:53]
Violin: Tasmin Little, Cello: Raphael Wallfisch
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
Recorded in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 1-3 June 1991. DDD
PLEASURE 7243 5 75803 2 8


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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 range.

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.

Michael Cookson

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