Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Mass of Life (1904-5) [98:24]
Prelude and Idyll (1902, 1933) [19:55]
Janice Watson (soprano); Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo)*; Andrew Kennedy (tenor)*; Alan Opie (baritone)
The Bach Choir*; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill
rec. The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK, 26-28 November 2011
NAXOS 8.572861-62 [47:31 + 70:48]
Naxos extend their Delius catalogue with a very strong Mass and a substantial, rare and far from inconsequential bipartite work recovered from a 1902 opera.
A Mass of Life sets Nietszche's words. It begins with a whooping celebration of life. The whole of that first section (O du mein wille) romps forward - an exultant paean to living fuelled by the rampant life force. One can see Max Adrian from the Russell film with his face turned unflinchingly to the sun lost in the physical warmth and dazzle of that transient instant high in the Norwegian mountains. It's a tribute to David Hill and his musicians and technical team that this rolling wave of joy is exceptionally well caught. If I find myself only intermittently engaged by much of the rest of the Mass it is no-one's fault other than my own. The poetry is put across with fidelity but the work needs more variation and drama to sustain a structure running some 100 minutes. Compare Delius's glorious pagan Requiem which is movingly and poetically done by Meredith Davies on EMI. That late 1960s analogue recording is extremely well done. The work presents an anti-Christian message. The shocking juxtaposition of cries of ‘Alleluia’ and the muezzin calls to worship are gripping even now.
As with so much Delius the Mass exhorts immersion in transient rapture and looks forward only to negation after death. It's a vastly more discursive work than the Requiem and has its longueurs even in the hands of Beecham (Sony and Pristine), Hickox (Chandos), Del Mar (Intaglio INCD702-2), Sargent (1966 BBC Third Programme broadcast never released) and Groves (EMI). A Mackerras Mass of Life with the WNO is another of those great might-have-beens but never was.
The valuable and indeed illustrious notes are by Lyndon Jenkins – style adroit and content pertinent and concise. The words are in the booklet with translation (also online): ideal!
Where do we go from here? I will not be surprised if Naxos turn to Hill and these excellent Bournemouth forces for A Song of the High Hills which would couple nicely with the magnificent Requiem. Meantime this is a strong Mass of Life at an accessible level even if Naxos prices have crept closer to mid-price. One wonders whether the Chandos Hickox Legacy series will include his Delius Mass and Requiem. Meantime this Mass presents Delius with glowing fidelity.
Much the same applies to the Whitman-based Prelude and Idyll. The latter is well enough known to adherents from the Meredith Davies disc. The Prelude is in fact the overture to Delius’s little verismo opera Margot La Rouge which appeared years ago in harness with The Magic Fountain on BBC CD3004. It appeared at about the same time as the BBC’s Irmelin (BBC CD3002). These have all long been deleted in case you were wondering. He made of the Margot love music a new duet concert work for soprano and baritone. It is tricked out with Whitman’s words chosen by Robert Nichols (1893–1944). Nichols wrote the poem set in Moeran’s superb Nocturne – itself dedicated to Delius’s memory in 1934. The Idyll was married up by the composer with the Margot prelude and the whole entitled Once I pass’d through a populous city. This affecting piece was premiered at a Prom in London on 3 October 1933. The singers were Dora Labbette and Roy Henderson with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood.
The present recording was supported by the Delius Trust and the Michael Marks Charitable Trust. It’s a considerable digital supplement to the Mackerras box on Decca, the Beecham Delius heritage on Naxos, Sony and EMI and the pretty much non-Beecham EMI Delius Centenary set.
Naxos extend their Delius catalogue with a very strong entry.
  Rob Barnett
Naxos extend their Delius catalogue with a very strong entry.