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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Eventyr (Once upon a time) (1917)
Arabesque for baritone, chorus and orchestra (1911)
Hassan – Incidental music (1920-1923)
Koanga (Closing Scene) (1897)
Einar Nørby, baritone; Lesley Fry, baritone; Stanley Riley, bass; Arthur Leavins, violin; Frederick Riddle, viola; BBC Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham.
Recorded EMI Studio No. 3, Abbey Road, 1951 (Eventyr) and 1956 (Koanga, Hassan - Serenade) and at Walthamstow Town Hall, 1955 (Arabesque, Hassan – rest)
SONY CLASSICAL SMK87966 [66.07]

This is another volume in Sony’s reissued series of Beecham Delius recordings from the 1950s. Eventyr and the closing scene from Koanga were included in the Naxos Historical series of recordings from the 1930s, as were less extensive extracts from the Hassan music. Arabesque was completely new to me.

Eventyr is a fifteen minute tone poem based on "Asbjornsen’s folklore", a collection of Norwegian folk tales published in 1841. Requiring a huge orchestra, the work is in that typically Delian rhapsodic style which demands quite a few hearings before we begin to be able to find our way around it. The startling moment when members of the orchestra are instructed to shout is surprisingly tame here, but otherwise the performance is electric.

Arabesque is a rich, opulently scored work for baritone, chorus and orchestra. It is sung to the original Danish text by J.P. Jacobsen, but since neither the text nor its translation appears in the booklet we can have no idea of what the soloist, who sings throughout, or the choir, which has a more subordinate role, are telling us. A summary of the text at least would have been welcome, but we don’t even get that. There are certainly many beautiful moments in the piece, and the soloist sings well enough if with a slightly tiring vibrato, but an opportunity to help the listener with a lesser known Delius work has been missed here.

James Elroy Flecker’s play Hassan or The Golden Journey to Samarkand was first given in September 1923, having been much postponed owing to financial constraints. Delius had been commissioned to compose the incidental music, and the production was successful enough for an initial run of several months. The music is certainly atmospheric. From the tender woodwind and harp solos in the opening piece of this selection to the robust and lively choruses the music is beautiful in itself and was presumably successful in the theatre setting. It also manages quite well to evoke the music of the Arab world without sliding into parody or pastiche. The Act 3 Prelude is particularly successful in this respect. The Serenade, an extended violin solo, and the Closing Scene are well known from other recordings, but this is a more extensive selection than usual and all the more interesting for that. Some of the pieces are short, however, and without much idea of the action they are meant to be accompanying they are difficult to imagine in context, and the failure again to provide the sung texts means that we can have no idea what the chorus is singing. Their words are largely inaudible. Beecham’s performance is magical and definitive, as it also is of the well known Closing Scene from Koanga. The names of the slightly wobbly singers are not given, but at least they are not singing at us from the cellar as seemed to be the case in 1934.

The mono sound in Eventyr, from 1951, is the most primitive of these recordings. There is a certain hardness in the sound throughout the disc, and also a number of studio noises, pages being turned and so on, but though it is certainly of its period the sound no longer gets in the way of the listener’s enjoyment as I, for one, find it does in the earlier Naxos series.

The booklet is adorned with the same photographs of Beecham as in other volumes in the series and the accompanying note by Graham Meville-Mason concentrates on Beecham and his association with Delius, especially in the recording studio, rather than on the works themselves, which is understandable given the special nature of these issues.

William Hedley



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