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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Florida Suite (rev. ed. Beecham) (1886-87) [36:15]
Paris The Song of a Great City (1899) [21:22]
Brigg Fair An English Rhapsody (1907) [16:02]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. Wessex Hall, Poole Centre, 7-8 May 1989. DDD

I hadn't listened to Brigg Fair for a long time and renewing my acquaintance with it in this performance was a great pleasure. Hickox coaxes beautifully atmospheric playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra strings at the beginning and the end of the work, and the wind playing, the principal flute in particular, is no less distinguished. EMI helpfully provides six index points, and this, as well as the admirable booklet notes by Lyndon Jenkins, help the listener find his way around a short but as the title would suggest rhapsodic score. Of course Sir Thomas Beecham tends to be seen as the benchmark in Delius still, and his final recording on EMI achieves greater power as well as finer clarity of texture in the more heavily scored passages. Barbirolli is more overtly affectionate another inevitability underlining the slight feeling of emotional detachment noticeable in the present performance, for all its pristine control of mood and atmosphere. This comes out only in detailed comparison, however, and the performance is a beautiful one which, on its own terms, will disappoint no-one.

Paris is an earlier work by some seven years, though the composer substantially revised it before publication in 1909. It marks a similar stage in his development as does the Enigma Variations for Elgar, and indeed the two works are roughly contemporary. The opening of the work is highly evocative of the awakening French capital, with wind soloists imitating the street cries which were so important a part of Delius' memories of the city. There are many marvellous passages in the main section of the work, the composer demonstrating his mastery of the large orchestra employed. Richard Strauss is often cited as a presence, which seems fair enough to me: Delius frequently approaches that composer in opulence. The work closes in tranquillity after a return of the opening material. Richard Hickox is just as convincing in this piece as in the later one, tender and more affectionate in the outer sections than either Beecham on Sony or Sir Charles Mackerras with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra on EMI in 1991.

One of the pleasures of reviewing for MusicWeb International is encountering music one didn't already know. I was surprised to find no other version of the Florida Suite on my shelves, and the sudden appearance of the melody of La Calinda in the opening piece came as a surprise, so I can only assume I have never heard the work before. It is the Delius' earliest completed orchestral essay whose only performance in the composer's lifetime was a private run-through in a beer hall in Leipzig where the musicians were paid in beer! Beecham it was who revived the work, though in a slightly bowdlerised form, in 1937, later preparing a more authentic edition which is the one used for performances today and indeed for this recording. It is a most satisfying work, highly atmospheric yet simpler in aim and style than the composer's later music, quite avoiding the highly charged atmosphere (and scoring) which can alienate some listeners. Once again Richard Hickox and his superb orchestra give a totally convincing performance, wholly in sympathy with the idiom.

This is beautifully recorded and inexpensive collection for those just starting out on their Delius expedition as well as the converted seeking alternative performances and attracted by the programme.

William Hedley 

see also review by Rob Barnett



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