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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.