Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Mass of Life (Eine Messe des Lebens)
Rosina Raisbeck (soprano); Monica Sinclair (alto); Charles Craig (tenor); Bruce Boyce (bass); London Philharmonic Choir/Frederick Jackson
Hassan Suite
Leslie Fry (baritone); Arthur Leavins (violin); Frederick Riddle (viola)
BBC Chorus/Leslie Woodgate
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. Abbey Road Studio 1, London, 8, 11 November, 8, 10, 12, 13 December 1952, 1, 20 January, 10 April, 14 May 1953 (Mass); Walthamstow Assembly Halls, London, 29 May 1956 (Hassan)
all transfers from Philips and Fontana white label LP test pressings
A Pristine Audio Natural Sound XR restoration
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC270 [66:34 + 63:66]

These classic mono recordings are familiar most recently from Sony’s handsomely presented Beecham series. This was issued between 2000 and 2003. You might find it difficult to find these now but if you persist you will be rewarded. There were four Delius-Beecham volumes:-

Appalachia, North Country Sletches etc SMK89429
Sea Drift, Paris etc SMK89430
A Mass of Life SM2KK89432
Eventyr, Arabesque Hassan SMK87966

I am usually a great supporter of Pristine’s efforts but in this case having sampled my way through both the 2001 CD and the present disc the Sony has my vote. The Mass is a work of towering grandeur with resoundingly affirmative writing for the soloists, choir and orchestra and no little poetry and intimacy. Sony SM2K889432 has just that much more virility and sheer heft. For all its mono sound the Sony reaches out to the listener with a three-dimensional sound that has immediacy and impact. I do not hear this to the same degree in the Pristine. It’s very good indeed and totally enjoyable – there’s no doubt about it – but when listened to side by side with the Sony there’s just as little doubt where the preference must lie. And what a fine work this is – Beecham makes every bar shine allowing no oxygen for boredom. If you do manage to find the Beecham-Sony then you will also have the bonus of the extended eleven movement Hassan Suite where honours are a shade more evenly divided with the Hassan which was issued by Sony as SMK87966 with Eventyr, Arabesque and Koanga (last scene). Sony has the Mass and just the Mass; no filler. In the case of the Mass Sony do however offer de luxe annotation in a practical font and using intelligent design choices pummelled and taught out of young designers in most cases these days. The words are shown side by side – sung German on the right hand and translation on the left. The Sony note is by Julian Haylock and have added the Charles Burr commentary included in the gatefold LP set by which I learnt this pulse-quickening work (CBS Classics 61182/3, mid-price).

This Pristine set is generously filled out but for the fuller impact promised and delivered by the Sony do try to find a copy of the now deleted SM2K889432. It’s worth the pilgrimage. I see that Amazon have it new for £34.99 and used for approaching £25.00.

Rob Barnett

This transfer of the Mass and to some degree of the Hassan Suite cannot match the Sony reissue from 2001.