The Complete Delius Songbook - Volume 1
Seven Songs from the Norwegian RT V/9 (1889-1890) [22:12]
Four Old English Lyrics RT V/30 (c.1915) [9:12]
Eleven Early Norwegian Songs: ‘Over the mountain high’
RT V/2 (undated, Pub.1974) [3:53] and ‘Mountain life’
RT V/6 (1888) [3:18]
‘They are not long, the weeping and the laughter’ RT
II/5 (1906) [2:44]
Two Songs for Children - ‘Little birdie’ RT V/29 (1913)
Songs to Words by Various Poets - ‘The Nightingale has a lyre
of gold’ RT V/25 (1910) [1:54] and ‘I-Brasil’
RT V/28 (1913) [3:48] [English]
Four Posthumous Songs - ‘In the Forest’ RT V/10 (1890/91)
[1:58] and ‘I once had a newly cut willow pipe’ RT V/14
(c.1892/93) [2:05] [from the Norwegian]
Three Songs, the Words by Shelley RT V/12 (1891) [8:43]
Five Songs from the Norwegian RT V/5 (c.1888) [17:30]
Mark Stone (baritone) Stephen Barlow (piano)
rec. The Music Room, Champs Hill, London, 30 August -1 September,
9 December 2010
STONE RECORDS 5060192780062 [79:01]
A.K. Holland hit the nail on the head when he wrote
(1952) that ‘in the ultimate assessment of Delius’s
art it is conceivable that his songs will occupy a somewhat
minor place’. Certainly when set beside the well-known
orchestral works such as Brigg Fair, On Hearing the
First Cuckoo in Spring and In a Summer Garden or
his great choral works such as the Mass of Life and Sea
Drift, they will never command a deal of attention. Delius’s
situation is not in the same category as those of John Ireland
or Benjamin Britten where the ‘lieder’ make up a
vital and integral part of their musical achievements, irrespective
of what other fine works they produced.
Yet there is a danger that in accepting the largely incidental
nature of the songs to his corpus of music, we cast them aside
as undeserving and trivial. Nothing could be more mistaken or
wrong-headed. They may not define the composer’s career,
but they are worthy and enjoyable examples of the genre which
both entertain and move.
I have made a quick check of these songs against Robert Threlfall’s
(RT) catalogue and also the Mary Christison Huismann Guide
to Research and conclude that there seem to be about 61
songs currently listed. The present CD contains some 27: the
others remain to be issued.
Any consideration of this excellent new Delius CD will involve
the listener taking a view about the use of English throughout.
I am a traditionalist at heart and consider that if a song,
opera or oratorio is written in a particular language, then
that is how it ought to be heard. There are times when I do
get off my ‘high-horse’ - for example, with some
of the excellent performances at the Coliseum with English National
Opera. The problem arises with a number of the songs recorded
here: the beautiful ‘Funf Lieder’ and the ‘Sieben
Lieder’ both ‘from the Norwegian’ which Delius
originally set in German! The purist (or the pedant) would argue
that they must therefore be sung in German. However as they
had already been translated (Norwegian to German), then another
translation (German to English) does not do too much harm to
the artistic integrity of the music.
The arguments in favour of English in this particular
case are twofold. Firstly, it allows the listener more easily
to approach and understand some fine songs that are not well-known
to the general recital-going or gramophone-listening public.
The second argument is more convincing: the scores of these
songs typically have the English translation written above/beneath
the German text. So the editor and the publisher, if not the
composer, must have imagined performances of these songs in
English as well as in German and, much less likely, Norwegian.
There does not appear to be a chronological format to the track-listing
on this CD, however the order chosen makes for an attractive
The recital opens with the lovely Seven Songs from the Norwegian
which were composed in 1889-1890. Delius had been impressed
by the literature he had read whilst visiting Grieg in Norway.
In fact, the Norwegian composer had set six of these seven texts
(‘Young Venevil’ was the exception). These are songs
that are straightforward and often employ a simple diatonic
or modal tune with a more chromatic accompaniment. Interestingly,
six of the present translations of these poems were made by
Peter Pears. They make a good introduction to any exploration
of Delius’s songs.
The latest group of songs in this recital are the Four Old
English Lyrics. The liner-notes point out that English poetry
makes up a ‘disappointing eleven items in Delius’s
song catalogues’ - not including the Maud settings
and Henley’s Late Lark. The present four were composed
during the Great War after the composer had been forced to return
to England. At this time many English composers had been seduced
by Elizabethan music ‘and were trying to catch its spirit,
sometimes with pseudo-Tudor and modal sophistications’.
Perhaps the best known exponent of this style was Delius’s
friend Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock) who was a composer and
an editor of Elizabethan musical material. However Delius does
not attempt to use the prevailing retro ‘song fashion’.
These four numbers, ‘Spring, the sweet Spring’,
‘To Daffodils’, ‘So white, so soft, so sweet
is she’ and ‘It was a lover and his lass’
are written in a complex ‘Euro’ style that reflects
considerable chromaticism and an involved and sometimes awkward
Interestingly, there are only two of the ‘Four Posthumous
Songs’ recorded on this CD. I hope that the other two
will appear later. However, both ‘In the Forest’
and ‘I once had a newly cut willow pipe’ are derived
from Norwegian texts: the other two are from the German. The
notes suggest that these are the latest (1891-1901), of the
Norwegian songs, in spite of their relative simplicity. I find
them a little edgy to listen to: they are both introspective
and despairing in tone.
I wonder why only one of the Two Songs for Children was
included on this CD. According to the catalogues these were
originally conceived for unison or two-part chorus with pianoforte
accompaniment. They were composed in 1913 for use in American
schools. Both songs were to texts by Tennyson: ‘What does
the little birdie say?’ and ‘The Streamlet’s
Slumber Song’. The first song is quite charming and has
a number of ‘Delian’ fingerprints in the accompaniment.
Could they not have squeezed the other one in?
I must admit to enjoying the Three Songs, the words by Shelley
(1891) in spite of their critical failings. Trevor Hold has
pointed out that the composer wrote these ‘in the only
English tradition that he was aware of, the drawing room ballad’.
He then outlines their defects, including ‘hackneyed figurations
and harmonies’ in the piano part, ‘sentimentality
of conception in which emotions are falsified and sent melodramatically
‘over the top ...’’ These are amongst his
earliest published songs. Yet they are, to my ear at least,
good examples of the ballad genre and deserve to be given an
A number of other songs recorded here include two of the Eleven
Early Songs which were published in 1974 as ‘songs
hitherto uncollected’ -‘Over the mountain high’
and ‘Mountain life’. One of the songs from the composer’s
Songs of Sunset which was originally scored for soprano,
baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra is also presented with
piano accompaniment. This version derives from a manuscript
sketch prepared before the choral work was composed. Finally,
Henley’s ‘The Nightingale has a lyre of gold’
and Fiona McLeod’s ‘I-Brasil’ which explores
the idea of the legendary island off the West coast of Ireland
are included. ‘I-Brasil’ is one of my favourite
Delius’ songs: it manages to nod towards a Scottish folk-song
style without adopting any kind of obvious ‘tartanry’.
The CD concludes with Five Songs from the Norwegian.
These are amongst the earliest of the Scandinavian settings,
being composed in 1888. They are dedicated to Nina Grieg. In
comparison to the slightly later Shelley songs, these five lyrics
achieve a near perfect balance between text, melody and accompaniment.
The difference could not be more striking. The first song, the
‘Slumber Song’, is surely faultless. The entire
set is possibly the most moving sequence in this recital.
The CD is well-presented with an excellent performance by Mark
Stone and Stephen Barlow. The notes are extremely helpful and
contain the texts of all the songs preceded by a good introduction
to the composer’s life and work. Detailed remarks explain
some of the often convoluted translation and publication history.
My only concern is the uniformity of ‘voice’:
I would have liked an edition that made use of soprano, alto,
tenor and bass, where appropriate. Much as I have enjoyed Mark
Stone’s attractive and well-rounded renditions, I would
have preferred a little variety such as Hyperion provided in
the Frank Bridge and John Ireland cycles.
This CD is an essential purchase for all enthusiasts of Fred
Delius in particular and English ‘lieder’ in general.
It has been argued that Delius’s songs are not as ‘good’
as those of RVW, Warlock or other English composers. However,
any hearing of this disc must encourage the listener to explore
this ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ aspect of
the life and works. The last word can go to A.K Holland who
wrote that ‘measure for measure … [these songs]
yield a fruitful reward to the singer of intelligence and imagination
as the work of a master who has acres to till but does not disdain
to cultivate his flower-garden.’ For ‘singer’
in this assessment we can substitute ‘listener’.
The present CD is a fine introduction to these songs and I look
forward to the subsequent volume.
see also review by William