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

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The Beecham Collection
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)

Brigg Fair +
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring *
The walk to the Paradise Garden from A Village Romeo and Juliet *
Sea Drift #
Autumn and Winter from North Country Sketches <
A Song before Sunrise <
A Dance Rhapsody No 2 <
Dennis Noble, baritone #
Manchester Beecham Opera chorus #
Symphony Orchestra +
Orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society *
Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded 1927-29 (first four items) October 1945 (remainder)
SOMM-BEECHAM 10 [74’45]

Somm are right prominently to note on the cover of their Beecham Collection that unissued recordings are included. Not only is this one of the most exciting aspects of their collaboration with Lady Shirley Beecham but also it alerts one to the fact that these are not simply run-of-the-mill reissues of the pre-War Beecham-Delius discography. The disc presents the unissued 1928 Sea Drift and two of the North Country Sketches from a never before released session of 1945 which also includes the similarly unreleased A Song before Sunrise and A Dance Rhapsody No 2. The disc also includes Beecham’s earliest recordings of Delius, made in December 1927, by which time the conductor had been associated with the music for nearly twenty years. That experience is palpable and if, in the main, these performances are less obviously impassioned than his later ones, they lose nothing in conviction or mastery.

Beecham encourages some noticeably fine contributions in Brigg Fair, not least from the strings and the flute and there are some fine individualists amongst the wind players generally whilst On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is affectionate without cloying. The string portamentos at 2’55 are prominently expressive but well scaled in terms of the playing generally. There is an effective languor to the performance that is beguiling. Beecham’s superb rubato animates The walk to the Paradise Garden – his supreme rhythmic licence emerges with absolute naturalness. Both these last two were in fact cited in a letter from composer to conductor as Delius’ favourites of his own recordings. Sea Drift is noted as having been previously unissued but I am sure that it has been out before, albeit with limited circulation, on LP. There are balance problems here, with the first part of Dennis Noble’s entry pretty much inaudible; there are also balancing concerns with the Choir, especially so in the passage beginning Shine, shine, shine. The uncredited violin soloist, very prominent, and recorded fractionally too close to the microphone must be W H Reed; his playing is most attractive, small-scaled and persuasively pliant. Noble himself is in fine voice, well rounded and firmly projected. When he sings over the hoarse surging of the sea he covers his vowels with subtle intelligence and elsewhere colours his voice musically. It is perhaps a slightly over-inflected performance though gains are ones of textual familiarity and clarity with Noble reaching a peak of eloquence in the lines O darkness – most impressive.

The remainder of the recordings date from 16 October 1945. The slightly swishy test pressings have been well filtered without losing frequencies. The LPO was still on reasonable form after the exigencies of the war but whilst the North Country Sketches are attractively and atmospherically done they are somewhat inferior to the subsequent recording of 1946. A Song before Sunrise is expressive and full of life whilst A Dance Rhapsody No 2 is briskly clear-eyed and with pastel shadings with some very impressive woodwind playing. A most useful adjunct for the commercial disc of the following year.

Graham Melville–Mason once again writes the enjoyable and instructive sleeve notes. Fifty or so minutes of as good as unissued Beecham Delius is a highly tempting proposition.

Jonathan Woolf

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