Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Village Romeo and Juliet (1901) [104.42]
Fabian Smith (bar) - Manzes (ten) - Sali
Vera Terry (sop) - Vreli
Gordon Clinton (bar) - The Dark Fiddler
Donald Munro (bar) - First Peasant, Merry-go-Round Man, Bargeman
Scott Joynt (bar) - Second Peasant, Bargeman
Sylvia Patriss (sop) - Woman 1, Wheel of Fortune Woman
Gwladys Garside (mz) - Women 2 and 3, Cheap Jewellery Woman, The Wild Girl
Marion Davies (sop) - Gingerbread Woman, Slim Girl
Lloyd Strauss-Smith (ten) - Showman, Poor Horn Player, Bargeman
Philip Hattey (bass-bar) - Hunch-Backed bass-fiddler
Herbert Dawson (organ)
Norman Del Mar (repetiteur)
BBC Theatre Chorus/RPO/Beecham
Songs of Sunset (1932) [29.14]
Olga Haley (sop); Roy Henderson (bar)
London Select Choir
LPO/Beecham
rec: Maida Vale Studios, BBC Third Programme, 23 Apr 1948 (Village Romeo and Juliet); from rehearsal takes, Leeds Town Hall, Leeds Festival, 4 Oct 1934 (Songs of Sunset) mono ADD
SOMM RECORDINGS SOMM-BEECHAM 12-2 [CD1: 70.22+ CD2: 72.15]



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Somewhat in the dramatic cast of A Mass of Life Delius's most successful opera starts in a tempest of stormily updrafting energy. This catches the ruddy strength of the two warring farmers (Manz and Marti) and their lust for a strip of land between their plots. The strip belongs to the dispossessed Fiddler.

This opera is dreamlike and in its legato musical contours has similarities to Pelléas et Mélisande. This is not an opera of dowager divas, super-star tenors and straining baritones. Its way is subtle, intensely poetic, regretful. This is accentuated by the personal qualities of the cast and orchestra. At 10.44 (tk.1) take as an example the detailed huskiness of the solo viola and the swinging energy of the ploughmen akin to Housman, RVW and Gurney. Just occasionally the accents of more than half a century ago may grate as in tr.3 CD2 at 11.23 where the laughing is a arch and mannered.

It is intriguing to notice Delius's structuring for this opera. There are eight sections comprising:- six scenes with scene IV split into two parts and The Walk to the Paradise Garden standing between the last scene and scene V. Most of the eight sections are of a duration similar to a typical Delius orchestral poem like In a Summer Garden or Song of Summer. The exception is the twenty-three minute Paradise Garden scene - the last one.

Sound quality cannot be expected to be exemplary although it is very respectable and enjoyable. There is an isolated scuff at 00.08 on track 2; a pity it couldn't have been swatted. However this momentary blemish does not subvert the introspective pietist atmosphere; nor the concentration on the gradient towards tragedy. When Sali sings 'all may yet be well again' you know that the couple are doomed.

The recording which was never intended for commercial release is somewhat boxy but you will forgive its defects of age given the passion and sensitive enthusiasm Beecham, his orchestra and all the singers bring to this enterprise. To get a candid impression of the quality of sound try tr.1 of CD2. Comparing this recording with the EMI Classics' commercial recording of the opera the EMI has the edge though a small one in terms of a more naturally contrived open acoustic. Still, the Somm is kind to the voices. Listen for example, at 8.40 on tr 4, to the explosive little climactic outburst from the young lovers. Also notable in scene IV part 1 are the passionate cries of the two [05.40]. Track 5 limns the phantasmal dream of Sali and Vreli (part 2 of sc iv) and is in nature of a hymnal funereal cortege. Excitement shines out too; listen to the cries of 'away, away, away' punched out with excitement by the chorus.

In The Fair (tk 6) you can hear where Patrick Hadley (who conducted Song of the High Hills with the Cambridge University Music Society) picked up the exuberance of the wedding scene from his own The Hills. It is interesting to compare this Delian fair with the Vanity Fair scene from Vaughan Williams' Pilgrim's Progress - an opera self-declared as being 'in the similitude of a dream'. While RVW's unease with the libidinous abandon of the fair is obvious Delius plunges into the 'dance of life' with corybantic relish and Parisian abandon. Speaking of abandon listen at 2.13 of tr.2 (the famous Walk) of CD2 and hear Beecham's barking grunt of encouragement.

The sound quality can be grainy and there are occasional scuffs but very few clicks. One low cycling scuff can be heard at 1.40 in tr.3 CD2. The recording is in mono, of course, but the signal is unapologetically strong and unwavering with no trace off-centre spindle problems or swish.

At the end the watermen singing 'halleo' (sc. 6 13.33) is quite magical as is the entwining sweetness of the solo violin a5t 3.43 in tr. 3 of CD2. The waterman's cries are just like the similar calls at the close of Appalachia. These in turn touch on the despair of Pervaneh and Rafi (from Flecker's Hassan) as they commit themelsves to torture and death in return for a night of love rather living never to see each other again. That same spirit also suffuses Hassan's Pilgrim Song 'we take the Golden Road to Samarkand'. While the reason the lovers thrown their lives away liebestod-style does not bear too close attention the music ineluctably carries all before it.

Inconsequential aside: Beecham was born in St Helens, just up the road from where I am writing this review. Beecham had as much tme for St Helens as Delius had for Bradford and Walton for Oldham. Various buildings in St Helens still carry the Beecham name.

In the case of this opera competition is either thin on the ground or non-existent ... currently. Meredith Davies 1972 ADD stereo version (EMI) has recently made it to CD although I have not heard it yet. By the way, Davies conducted the 1962 revival of the opera in Bradford as part of the Delius Centenary Festival. Mackerras's early 1990s set, also on video at one time, was issued on Argo.

The other famous EMI version is the Beecham commercial studio recording made within a month of the BBC event preserved by this SOMM set. This was issued in the LP era as part of a distinguished World Record Club box (in the later of the two boxed Beecham/Delius sets). Latterly (1992) EMI Classics issued this 1948 set on CMS 7 64386 2 as part of The Beecham Edition. Unlike the SOMM this included the libretto or more accurately substantial extracts from the libretto linked by a narrative, all compiled by Fenby in 1948 for the release of the 78s. Currently this too is deleted. The EMI was fleshed out with the Gordon Clinton version of Sea Drift but the timings still seemed pretty miserly by comparison with the SOMM: EMI 63.23+60.52 as against SOMM's 70.22+72.15. This timing is accounted for by the more expansive approach in the BBC recording and by the fact that Songs of Sunset are longer than the Clinton Sea Drift by about three minutes.

The comparative timings for the two sets are fascinating although please note that these figures are taken off the jewel box inserts rather than timed with a stop-watch:-

SOMM EMI

CD1

Sc 1 16.33 16.16

Sc 2 11.27 9.40

Sc 3 14.37 12.26

Sc 4 Pt 1 15.10 13.25

Sc 4 Pt 2 12.27 11.17

CD2

Sc 5 8.24 8.10

Walk 10.20 8.38

Sc 6 23.36 21.05

The Somm insert booklet has notes (English only) by Graham Melville-Mason and the introduction and synopsis to the opera, by Eric Fenby. This differs from the more extensive effort with the EMI set. There is no libretto for the opera although the words are given for the Dowson-based Songs of Sunset added as a bonus now that the disc for the final song has been tracked down.

Previously Songs of Sunset was issued on SOMM-BEECHAM 8 minus the last song. Its inclusion certainly makes this set an even more attractive proposition. Given that in the company of the opera it is a subsidiary work people are likely to want to buy this for the opera and are unlikely to begrudge the duplication of the Songs. I am sure that most Delian folk would have bought this set even if it had had no coupling. The singing throughout is wonderfully coaxing and rounded with the demonstration track being the See How The Trees. Roy Henderson, a noted Delian, is in clear and rugged voice finding personality and moment in this music. This work has the tendency to mournfulness not uncommon in Delius but heard to perfection in the dialogue of sighs from 03.02 - 03.34 tk.9 CD2. Delius transcends the maudlin and achieves a mystical glowing acceptance of mortality - a nirvana distant from the Christian heaven.

The booklet explains that the opera recording was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 23 and 25 April 1948. This was the first of two studio performances recorded on acetates by these forces at Maida Vale. I wonder if a recording of the second studio performance has survived? Stephen Lloyd who has made authoritative contributions to the Delius literature gave guidance and assistance to permit the release of this recording.

Rather as with other Third Programme BBC opera broadcasts of that era there is a narrator who sometimes speaks over the top of the music as at the end of tr. 1 CD2.

A self-recommending historic recording in which the passion of a radio studio performance compares very well with Beecham's commercial effort for EMI. Tolerant ears needed.

Rob Barnett



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