Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Songs of Sunset (settings of poems by Edward Dowson) (1906/08) [32:18]
Three Songs to poems by Shelley (Love’s Philosophy; Indian Love Song; To the Queen of My Heart)) orch. Bo Holten (1891)
North Country Sketches (1913/14) [26:33]:
A Late Lark (1925) [5:23]
Henriette Bonde-Hansen (soprano); Johan Reuter (baritone)
Aarhus Cathedral Choir and Aarhus Symphony Orchestra Choir
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
rec. Symfonisk Sal, Aarhus, Denmark, 10-14 October and 20-21 December 2011.
‘I don’t claim to be a British composer,” commented Frederick Delius. Christopher Palmer confirmed this assertion in the title of his book, Delius - Portrait of a Cosmopolitan (Duckworth, 1976) for me still one of the best books ever written about the composer. This new Bo Holten recording, his third of compositions by Delius, with his Danish performers, confirms - if ever that was necessary - the true cosmopolitan nature and appeal of Delius’s music.
Songs of Sunset
“…But the spring of the soul, the spring of the soul,
Cometh no more for you or for me…”
Songs of Sunset wasn’t premiered until 7 March 1914 in Elberfeld, Germany just months before the opening of one of the bloodiest conflagrations in the history of mankind. Its theme is the beauty and the agony of love - of love lost or on the wane. Delius takes Ernest Dowson’s extravagant texts and heightens them with almost unbearable emotional intensity and beauty. As a young man it was this Delius work that appealed to me most. Maybe I was more impressionable in my 20s, but it pierced me then; and it can pierce me still. Only the stoniest of hearts, I feel, could be impervious to its emotional pinnacles such as at the lines quoted below the subheading above, and at “Our love, a twilight of the heart Eludes a little time’s deceit” so affectingly delivered by the Liverpool Philharmonic Choir in Sir Charles Groves 1968 recording with Janet Baker and John Shirley-Quirk with the touching fiddle solo ending that second chorus. Yet Holten’s voices are almost equally affecting here. Janet Baker touches the heart in her ‘Exceeding Sorrow’ solo; she feels this most forlorn of texts exquisitely, “Be no word spoken; weep nothing…” Despite something of a quiver, Henriette Bonde-Hansen responds well to the sentiments of this solo too. Just listen to how her voice droops dejectedly, so pregnant with meaning at the closing words “Let us forget tomorrow This one day!”. Oh, how achingly beautiful is Holten’s cellist rounding off this haunting movement. Throughout this Sunset Holten’s orchestra hardly puts a foot wrong through Delius’s sweetly melancholy and evocative score. Shirley-Quirk steals a march on Reuter in both of his solos. How Shirley-Quirk feels so dejected at ‘”No man knoweth our desolation, Memory pales of the old delight...”; one really empathises with his hunger for his departed love, leaving him with “all my memories that could not sleep”.
With North Country Sketches, Delius returns to his English beginnings, to the Yorkshire moors for these evocative pictures of their austere beauty through the seasons. As a boy, Delius had escaped there from the gloomy black atmosphere of industrial Bradford. Holten’s performers paint most realistic nature pictures: Autumn winds softly soughing in the trees in an almost empty landscape disturbed only by the occasional bird call; an iron chill gripping the Winter Landscape, one can imagine trees painted white, icicles draped over isolated buildings; then with Dance and the ebullient The March of Spring Delius joyfully acknowledges life eternally renewing and reaffirming - a major Delian motif.
A Late Lark - twitters from the quiet skies...”. So begins W.E. Henley’s lovely poem of a lark’s serenade to a radiant sunset over “an old grey city”. So it continues until there approaches “Night with her train of stars And her great gift of sleep…”. This peaceful beauty is then likened to the poet’s wish for an equally serene closing to his life - “So be my passing!” Clearly this imagery would have appealed greatly to Delius. So it was that he was inspired to set this tranquil scene to music with the aid of his amanuensis, Eric Fenby some nine years before he died. Holten captures the roseate and sylvan atmosphere beguilingly. Henriette Bonde-Hansen captures its sentiments admirably although I would have liked to have heard a little more emotional response to the lines “…in my heart Some late lark singing, let me be gathered to the quiet west…”
The Shelley settings that comprise the Three Songs were originally for just voice and piano. Bo Holten has sympathetically orchestrated them in the Delius idiom for this recording. Shelley’s well-loved Love’s Philosophy has a rapturous orchestral outpouring with Bonde-Hansen passionately pleading “What are all these kisses worth If thou kiss me not?” Indian Love Song pulses languidly, voluptuously, with the soprano fervently pleading for her lover to press her close, heart to heart: “… again Where it will break at last.” To the Queen of My Heart has her ardently intimating that her love will endure serenity and strife and her eagerness to roam “In the cool night air…” so that she can murmur “What I dare not in broad daylight.” 

Despite my lingering and greater affection for the Groves - Janet Baker - Shirley-Quirk EMI Classics recording of Songs of Sunset, this new recording offers so many riches. This and the fact that Danish, Bo Holten continues to impress with his commitment to Delius means that I must offer this disc ‘Recording of the Month’ status.
Ian Lace  
So many riches flowing from Holten’s commitment to Delius.
Detailed contents list
Songs of Sunset (settings of poems by Edward Dowson) (1906/08) [32:18]:-
A Song of the Setting Sun! [3:03]; Cease Smiling, Dear! A Little While Be Sad [4:31];
Pale Amber Sunlight Falls [4:33]; Exceeding Sorrow Consumeth My Sad Heart [4:55];
By the Sad Waters of Separation [4:34]; See How the Trees and the Osiers Lithe [3:19]; I Was Sorrowful, I Could Not Weep [4:24]; They Are Not long, the Weeping and the Laughter [2:59]
Three Songs to poems by Shelley (1891) orchestrated by Bo Holten: Love’s Philosophy [2:35]; Indian Love Song [3:33]; To the Queen of My Heart [4:04]
North Country Sketches (1913/14) [26:33]: Autumn (The wind soughs in the trees) [8:03]; Winter Landscape [4:06]; Dance [6:10]; The March of Spring (Woodlands, Meadows and Silent Moors) [8:14]
A Late Lark (1925) [5:23]