Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (1915-16) [21:43]
Violin Concerto (1916) [25:28]
Cello Concerto (1915) [21:23]
Tasmin Little (violin), Paul Watkins (cello)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 13-14 October 2010, All Saints Church, Tooting, London
CHANDOS CHSA5094 [68:59]
Inspiration and Chandos are rarely distantly separated. Here Delius’s trio of string instrument concertos appear for the first time on one disc. It’s an obvious and compellingly logical assemblage - something of a dream team. They always belonged together but Chandos are the first to make the idea a reality.
It is hardly surprising that Delius was drawn to writing for strings. They offer a naturally long seamlessly lyrical line, grace and passion, allure and mystery; one of the closest instrumental approximations to the human voice yet liberated from the limitations of breath control.
While there are some Delius works for piano including an early concerto the string family predominates. Three numbered violin sonatas are joined by an unnumbered one. There are three concertos as well as a Legend (violin) and several small genre pieces. To these can be added two Romances, one for violin, the other for cello as well as the one-movement Cello Sonata (surely begging for a sensitive orchestration). The history of these works is bound up with that of the Harrison sisters and specifically Beatrice (1892-1965), the cellist and May (1890-1959), the violinist.
Frederick and Jelka Delius owe their meeting with the sisters to the Brahms Double Concerto which between 1910 and 1914 they performed throughout Europe. Delius heard one of these concerts in Manchester in December 1914; it left an indelible impression. He immediately began to write a Double Concerto for them. The dedication names the two sisters. When the score was delivered they told him that the cello line was unplayable. He took this in good part and within three months had rewritten it with assistance from Philip Heseltine and further editing by the sisters. Meantime the German invasion of France drove the Deliuses from their home at Grez-sur-Loing to London. They were not able to return until 1919. The Double Concerto was completed in 1916. The first performance, which was given by the dedicatees, took place on 20 February 1920 in the Queen's Hall, London when the conductor was Henry Wood. This is far from the end of the Harrison connection. Delius’s Cello Concerto - his favourite of the four - was dedicated to Beatrice and is heard here as edited by Beecham and Fenby. Although the first performance was given in Vienna in January 1923 by Alexandre Barjansky, Beatrice gave the UK premiere in London in July that year with Eugene Goossens conducting. In 1930 May Harrison was invited to Grez to play the Violin Sonata No. 3 which the ailing Delius had completed with the Fenby’s help. Her playing made such an impression that the work was instantly dedicated to her. Margaret Harrison, the youngest of the sisters, had assisted May and Beatrice in their on the editing of his Double Concerto. She performed the violin sonatas and the Violin Concerto which was dedicated to Albert Sammons who also recorded it.
The Delius Cello Sonata is dedicated to Beatrice Harrison who premiered it in 1918 in London with Hamilton Harty. Tragically there were to be no commercial recordings of the Harrisons playing the Cello Concerto or the Double Concerto; a pity that no radio recordings appear to survive either. Beatrice did however record the Caprice and Elegy which was also dedicated to her. This was made in 1930 for HMV. The conductor was Delius’s amanuensis, Eric Fenby who in later years warmly recalled May Harrison’s playing of unaccompanied Bach at Grez.
In death the Delius-Harrison association continues. The composer was buried in the churchyard at St Peter's, Limpsfield in Surrey. This is also the last resting place of the four Harrison sisters: Beatrice, Margaret, May and Monica. Not only that; here also are buried the remains of Sir Thomas Beecham, Delius's lifelong champion as well as those of Norman Del Mar, Beecham protégé and gifted Delius conductor. Limpsfield is not far from Foyle Riding where famously Beatrice played duets with nightingales on warm summer evenings.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis - who is no stranger to Delius - have already released one Chandos Delius disc this year (CHSA5088 - Appalachia and The Song of the High Hills). The present disc is a very fine second volume featuring Tasmin Little. She has over the years taken an in-depth and passionate interest in Delius; witness her Delius TV documentary centred on his time in the Florida orange groves. In 1991 she famously recorded the Violin Concerto for Decca (review review) as part of another cycle that deserves issue as a boxed set: Welsh National Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras; that 8 CD set is due to be issued by Decca in November on 4783078. At about the same time she was heard, courtesy of EMI, alongside Raphael Wallfisch in the Double Concerto, again a Mackerras project, this time with the RLPO. That disc was, strangely enough, never issued at full price. It emerged first on CD-EMX2185 EMI Eminence then reissued on CFP (review). She has also recorded a very fine set of the sonatas (review review).
These fresh new recordings have all the usual warmth but add to it a perhaps dangerous clarity. After all shouldn’t there be shimmer and haze - latent suggestion rather than patent assertion. In fact the enchantment emerges intact and very satisfying.
I love the Double Concerto and note Michael Cookson’s preference for the the vinyl recording played by Yehudi Menuhin and Paul Tortelier with the RPO under Meredith Davies on HMV ASD 3343. It was later reissued on CD (CDM 7 63022). It’s certainly entrancingly done and Davies (who also recorded A Village Romeo and Juliet in the 1970s) has the manner to a tee. However the orchestra seems distant by comparison with the Chandos. Also it’s in a single indigestible track of 21:50 rather like the still impressive though very ancient first ever recording by Raymond Cohen (violin) and Gerald Warburg who funded the Pye Golden Guinea Collector Series LP GSGC14073 in the mid-1960s. He also paid for elite Beecham-scions the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Beecham protégé Norman Del Mar. It’s a splendid version but again time marches on and the sound of the orchestra cannot compare with the Chandos. Still if you want to hear it you can do so through an early CD transfer on . The Wallfisch/Little places the two soloists well and with some parity but the orchestral backdrop is quite recessed.
Lloyd-Webber’s pretty splendidly done RCA recording (review review) of the Cello Concerto is from the early 1980s with the Philharmonia conducted by Handley. Here the cello sounds so much warmer and languid than that of Paul Watkins. The concerto runs to all of 26:38 against Watkins’ and Davis’s 21:23. Both Watkins and Lloyd-Webber will have played the work as they felt it - which the composer enjoined soloists to do. I have not heard the Dupré version.
Tasmin Little has recorded the Violin Concerto for the second time here. Her quicksilver way remains very moving and exciting. If you prefer a more statuesque way then opt for Philippe Djokic’s version for Naxos as part of their Tintner Edition. (8.557242) or the ancient recording by Robert Gerle (Westminster) through which I discovered the work. The most vibrant, gravid and full-lipped version I ever heard came from a Prom circa 1982 with Ida Haendel and the BBCSO conducted by Rozhdestvensky. This was later issued as part of the now long-gone BBC Radio series of CDs. Little is somewhat faster than the Ralph Holmes disc which was made as part of the Fenby-Unicorn series though in Holmes’ case the conductor was Vernon Handley. Again Holmes is well worth hearing as he is presented in really good sound in a particularly impulsive and spontaneous reading. He takes just over a minute longer than Little.
All of that said we are drawn ineluctably back to the cogent coupling and finely performed and recorded readings of Delius’s three concertos for stringed instruments.
see also review by Ian Lace (November 2011 Recording of the Month)
These fresh new recordings have warmth and clarity through which the enchantment emerges intact and very satisfying.