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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Norwegian Masterworks

Eventyr (1915/17)
Sleigh Ride (1887 orch 1889)
Five Songs from the Norwegian (1888 orch Bo Holten) *
Slumber Song
The Nightingale
Summer Eve
Longing
Sunset

The Song of the High Hills (1911/12)
Henriette Bonde-Hansen, soprano *
John Kjøller, tenor
Helle Høyer Hansen, soprano
Aarhus University Choir
Hummerkoret
Aarhus Chamber Choir
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
Recorded Frichsparken, Aarhus, May 2001
DANACORD DACOCD 592 [65.43]
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Following the success of their previous disc – DACOCD 536 – Holten and his forces turn to more Delius and demonstrate an equal measure of intelligence, sensitivity and acute stylistic awareness. The most notable feature of the new disc is the orchestration Holten has himself undertaken of the Five Songs from the Norwegian that Delius dedicated to Nina Grieg in 1888. Of the five only The Nightingale will be generally familiar, even to confirmed Delians, and that perhaps mainly from the collaboration of Dora Labbette and Thomas Beecham in their 1929 recording. Holten’s orchestrations are expressive, apt, quite extensive and entirely convincing. The soprano is Henriette Bonde-Hansen, whose excellent musicianship is a real boon, her voice even and clear across the scale; as importantly she observes the longer line of each setting with close attention to detail. In the Slumber Song, an idiomatic and eventful setting, she is especially pleasurable and in The Nightingale, taken quite slowly, throughout which intrusive brass and wandering oboes add their own indelible orchestral pleasures, she is equally impressive. Holten has caught the mood of languid simplicity embedded in Summer Eve and his delicately effective setting marks the central point in the five-poem cycle. He could quite easily have succumbed to the rich orchestral potential for the macabre in the fourth poem, Longing, but whilst it’s a rich and fulsome orchestration it remains strictly within Delian bounds. The final setting, of Andreas Munch’s Sunset, is notable for the cello depth, the rich brown sonority thus imparted, and for the piping trilling woodwind, as the earth is enveloped by night in gorgeous liquidity.

Which are riches enough, of course, even without the remainder of the programme. Eventyr ("Once upon a time") has a splendid sense of flux; Holten takes some passages really quite briskly but never sounds unduly forced. There’s vigour here and a sense of movement but not of breathlessness, the Straussian crypto-programmatic tapestry very well integrated; even the brazen yells are good. The first performance of Sleigh Ride took place in 1946, conducted by Richard Austin, at the second Beecham-organised Delius Festival, getting on for sixty years after it was written (it was actually orchestrated in 1889). Infectious and full of light charm it receives a commensurately charming unforced performance. Finally, The Song of the High Hills. This is an exceptionally difficult piece successfully to bring off. Its relatively high degree of sectionality can cause real problems if a conductor is unversed in such matters and lacks the imagination and will to create a convincing arc that embraces all the seemingly disparate passages. That Holten succeeds to a large degree is a tribute both to his sensitivity and acumen. He is not afraid to be emphatic, nor to dramatise the colour in the score, but seldom if ever at the expense of the Delian line, that necessary spine without which performances can congeal or become flabby. In these matters affection is no substitute for a just sense of movement. The two soloists, Kjøller and Hansen, are fine and the ensemble excellent; the chorus is alert to dynamic range and some of their entries are exceptionally quietly achieved.

Notes are by Lionel Carley, in English only, and as ever a potent mix of biography and cogent quotation, and there are translations of all texts. The sound quality was overseen by Lennart Dehn and is all one could hope for; spacious without losing focus. As with the first issue in this series, this is a most impressive achievement and very warmly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf


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