> Delius Requiem etc [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Requiem (1916)
Idyll - Once I Passed Through a Populous City (1902)
A Song Before Sunrise (1918)
Songs of Farewell (1928)
Heather Harper (sop)
John Shirley-Quirk (bar)
Royal Choral Society
RPO/Meredith Davies (Requiem; Idyll)
RPO/Malcolm Sargent (Sunrise; Farewell)
rec Requiem; Idyll: Kingsway Hall, London, 19-21 Feb 1968; No. 1 Studio, Abbey Rd, Sunrise 2 Mar 1965; Farewell 22-23 Apr 1964, ADD
recordings made and reissued under auspices of the Delius Trust
EMI CLASSICS CDZ 7243 5 75293 2 7 [78.15]

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Unless I am much mistaken (I am not familiar for example with the reissue roster of Japanese EMI and their licensees) this is the first appearance on CD of the Meredith Davies Requiem and Idyll. Perhaps this augurs well for Davies' A Village Romeo and Juliet (EMI circa 1972) languishing in LP purgatory. The Sargent items have appeared once before. This was on an odds-and-ends Delius miscellany (entitled 'La Calinda-A Delius Festival' EMI Classics CDM 769534 2) which also included Barbirolli's Late Swallows, Meredith Davies' Paradise Garden Walk (plucked direct from the complete opera recording), George Weldon's La Calinda, Groves' Cynara and Daviesí Prelude from the opera (Margot La Rouge) from which Idyll was lifted. EMI have cut their Delius patrimony in many permutations ¼ and quite right too. We are the beneficiaries though in this case, these are all analogue recordings, you must be prepared for some distant hiss. This has more presence in the Sargent tracks than in the Davies.

I do wonder why it has taken so long for Requiem and Idyll to be liberated from the vinyl shelves. This disc, which is filled to the brim, is to be smilingly snapped up. I suspect it will do very well indeed largely amongst the Delians who have had to wait so long for this Requiem and this Idyll to turn up. Whatever next from EMI ... the Groves/RLPO Song of the High Hills ... Koanga, Fennimore and Gerda?

Even among Delians the Requiem has been a work of the dubious twilight. Why is this? Hickox recorded it for Chandos as a makeweight alongside A Mass of Life and a different recording of the Requiem was similarly harnessed on the Italian Intaglio label (INCD 702-2, long deleted). The Intaglio was an off-air taping of a BBC Third Programme broadcast of the RLPO conducted by Charles Groves. The soloists were Thomas Hemsley and again Heather Harper. Oddly enough the Unicorn 'Fenby Legacy' series (1980s) never reached it though it would have made a much better balanced coupling with Fenby's glorious Song of the High Hills than the Scandinavian songs with orchestra.

The Requiem has perhaps been hampered in its concert life by being a defiantly unChristian and, for that matter, unIslamic work. Delius preached the gospel of glory in the high noon of life and meeting death fearlessly in his knowledge that after death there was nothingness. This was a merciless message to the audiences of the 1920s with perhaps every other member of the audience touched by loss in the Great War. The unremitting bitterness is exacerbated by the rather elitist dedication 'To the memory of all young artists fallen in the war'. Here was no comforting message; nothing of the popular comforting spiritualism of those days with hands of the bereaved reaching to grip the hands of the uniformed dead. Seemingly John Foulds' World Requiem retained its mid-1920s popularity because it spoke of reunion. Julius Harrison's 'Requiem of Archangels' is a work, by repute, allied with the Foulds. Delius's Requiem has more in common with Bantock's celebration of Carpe Diem where death is associated with the phrase 'turn down an empty glass' and the dead lie 'star-scattered' shells on the grass. For Bantock and Delius this life was all there was ¼ and then negation. Their message was: bask in life and all its joys.

The anti-religious message of the Requiem was intensified by having the choirs sing 'alleluia' and 'La il Allah' antiphonally - a blasphemous coup. It is no wonder the work found no place at The Three Choirs! In fact the infamy of juxtaposing such religious material might, in more recent times, have drawn down on Delius what fell on Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses. But the music is amongst the best Delius. More concise than A Mass of Life and vastly more effective. Its sad sweetness is utterly uncloying and part of its grip on success is down to the clarity of the mingled lines and textures which achieves a wonderful transparency from which Herbert Howells and Patrick Hadley were later to learn.

Idyll is even stronger, melodically speaking, with well rounded themes - mature and extremely expressive. The slow roll of the theme at 00.47 in track 6 manages to sound Sibelian. Shirley-Quirk sounds impressive - pretty much as he sounded five or six years later when he recorded Belshazzar's Feast with Previn. Idyll weaves in Ďa walk to the paradise gardení in track 9. It ends in transcendent peace. While based on a verismo shocker of an opera (Margot la Rouge) Idyll emerged shorn of anything approaching tub-thumping.

Sargent's Song Before Sunrise is a little short on mystery and can sound rushed even if it is beefier and more red-blooded than usual. This is an approach flooded with virile potency. The choral singing in Sargentís Songs of Farewell is golden - acres of burnished tone at Joy Shipmate Joy (a text set by RVW, Stanford and Holst). Sargentís way as a choral trainer is memorable. In one of the songs Delius self-quotes from the dawn music from Hassan.

The competition for the Requiem is from Chandos's Hickox set where it serves as a companion to A Mass of Life. I have not heard that set though I am sure it has considerable strengths. I have however heard the Intaglio set preserving Norman del Mar's 3 May 1971 broadcast of A Mass of Life (complete with Kiri Te Kanawa in young and vibrant voice fresh from recording the Bernard Herrmann Salammbo aria for the RCA Charles Gerhardt film music album). The Requiem was recorded in Liverpool at Philharmonic Hall. It has a slight edge in terms of an ample concert hall acoustic. The splendid Liverpudlian chorus are shaded to a degree by the Davies' Royal Choral Society; not in relation to depth of sound but in coordinated enunciation. Grovesí Allelujah section is more abandoned and Pan-like. Heather Harper also sings luminously (bringing back memories of her Chandos recording of Harty's Ode to a Nightingale') in the Liverpool broadcast although the lion's share of the solo singing goes to Thomas Hemsley who is just as good as John Shirley-Quirk (who, by the way, is also amongst the soli in Del Mar's Mass of Life). The Intaglio recording seems to be in mono

The Requiem was premiered as were all the works on this CD at the Queen's Hall in London on 23 March 1922. Going by the resemblances between the solemn hymn-like prelude 'Our days here are as one day' and the Bax's Fifth Symphony Arnold Bax must have been in the audience that day. The conductor was Albert Coates who conducted the premiere of Bax's First Symphony on 4 December 1922.

Overall a handsome production, well annotated (though lacking texts for the Requiem and Idyll) and technical aspects handled with confidence and taste.

Rob Barnett

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