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.