> The Beecham Collection: Frederick Delius [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Mass of Life – Prelude to Part Two, No 3
An Arabesk +
Songs of Sunset +*#

The Violet
Klein Venevil
Le ciel est par-dessus le toit
Irmelin Rose
Twilight Fancies
Cradle Song
The Nightingale
Roy Henderson, baritone +
Olga Haley, soprano *
London Select Choir +
Nancy Evans, soprano and Redvers Llewellyn, baritone with the BBC Chorus #
Dora Labbette, soprano
Sir Thomas Beecham, piano
Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1929-46
SOMM-BEECHAM 8 [73’40]

There’s sorrow on the wind, my grief,

There’s sorrow on the wind.

Fiona Macleod’s I-Brasil inspired one of Delius’ most touching settings but no grief attends to the record buyer who invests in this disc devoted to the composer’s settings for voice and presided over by Sir Thomas Beecham. Not the least of the reasons is the release of the live Leeds Festival recordings of October 1934 in which Roy Henderson was prominent in the Arabesk and Songs of Sunset, where he was joined by the inter-War stalwart Olga Haley. The Songs with Beecham himself as pianist and soprano Dora Labbette have been unavailable for some time now and this is apparently their first incarnation on CD.

But the disc opens in rousing fashion with the purely orchestral Prelude to Part Two of A Mass of Life. Also never before issued on CD this 1938 recording displays all the LPO virtues of elegance of string texture, wind interplay and personalisation of tone, and although the percussion is a little muffled in the balance this is a winningly cogent reading. An Arabesk is in excellent sound considering its age, the circumstances, still somewhat unclear, concerning its recording and its obvious rarity. Henderson himself is in musicianly form, clean, clear of diction and with good intonation. The following day Henderson was joined by Olga Haley for a performance of Songs of Sunset of which the last, the Dowson song They are not long, the weeping and the laughter was thought not to have survived but discovered since the issue of this CD. Somm have instead substituted a 1946 performance by Nancy Evans and Redvers Llewellyn – itself unissued and part of the complete cycle (now reissued complete as a coupling with the off-air version of the Delius and Beecham A Village Romeo and Juliet). The balance is not quite ideal in 1934 and one can hear some audience coughs as well as some surface noise but these are minor details, insignificant in the bigger picture. We can certainly appreciate the oboe’s winding melodies in Pale amber sunlight and the fine contribution of the London Select Choir. The orchestra is very slightly recessed but Beecham sensitively shapes its contours and ensures that the solo violin, Paul Beard I assume, is audible in his own line. Haley has a flexible soprano with a well-sustained and supported lower register and in Exceeding sorrow her portamentos and prominent and attractive vibrato are admirable. Beecham moulds the ebb and flow of the strings in See how the trees with expressive shadings and there is something exceptionally touching about I was not sorrowful – Henderson is unsentimental and understated and all the more effective for it. A pity about the loss of the last song but the torso that remains is of real importance in the Beecham-Delius discography.

Dora Labbette and Olga Haley were fundamentally different kinds of soprano. Labbette is effortlessly mobile, with a silvered top to her compass and a tight vibrato. She had, and retained, a youthful quality to the voice that is immediately attractive and in these songs, accompanied by Beecham on the piano – and the four with the LPO – she brings distinguished credentials to her performances. She shades and colours Whither, is romantically affectionate in The Violet and possesses in abundance the kind of sophisticated simplicity necessary for I-Brasil. It’s a shame that a rather sub-standard copy of Le Ciel est par-dessus le toit has been used – too many ticks. But these songs are beautifully sung and shaped and whether in the orchestral settings of 1938 or the piano-accompanied 1929 (recorded, incidentally, shortly before the Delius Festival of that year) necessary additions for the Delian shelves. Transfers are generally excellent and notes to the point. Recording details are clearer and more typographically helpful than has sometimes been the case in this series but whilst matrix numbers are given 78 issue numbers, where relevant, are not. Needless to say, however, a notably successful and important disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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