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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) The Delius Collection
Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Thomas Allen: Felicity Lott, Sarah Walker,
Julian Lloyd Webber, Ralph Holmes, Eric Parkin, Philip Fowke,
Ambrosian Singers (soloists: Maryetta Midgley, Vernon Midgley)/John McCarthy
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman Del Mar, Eric Fenby, Vernon Handley
Full contents list at end of review
HERITAGE HTGCD 700 [7 CDs: 65.05 + 71.03 + 72.53 + 64.48 + 73.15 + 66.40 + 66.43]

Experience Classicsonline

The recent welter of Delius discs is no random harvest: 2012 is the composer’s 150th anniversary. Interesting, that with a few honourable exceptions – Stone and Chandos – these have been reissues. They have included sets from EMI and Decca.
The present set, sumptuous in quantity and quality, is quite a coup for Heritage. The price is right and the content is classic. These are the recordings made by Unicorn, Eric Fenby (1906-1997), Del Mar and many other Delius luminaries in the ten years that straddle the launch of the CD. The list of producers and engineers reads like a roll-call of the greats: Christopher Palmer, Brian Culverhouse, Bob Auger, Tony Faulkner, Tony Hodgson. The booklet runs to 28 pages and is by Robert Matthew-Walker with a foreword by the always rewarding Stephen Lloyd. Full texts for the vocal works are also given. Many though not all of these were issued on Unicorn RHS LPs and then on full price CDs UKCD and latterly on mid-price UNCD Unicorns (listed below). This is the first time they have appeared in a boxed set at any price. Everything that was part of the original project is there. It’s not all conducted by Fenby. That Beecham scion, Norman Del Mar is much in evidence and Handley conducts the works for violin and orchestra. The singers and instrumental soloists are from the elite ranks of British singers.
The first disc mixes piano solos and orchestral; mostly the latter. The two Dance Rhapsodies provide the frame - the first conducted by Del Mar and the second by Fenby. Del Mar's first is heavy with atmospheric mystery, catchy-innocent and effortlessly mercurial. Fenby's account of the Second seems a shade more earthbound but very transparently laid out - one hears the scoring with refreshing clarity. The Fenby-conducted Song of the High Hills nicely encapsulates the Delius essence: wayward dreaminess and drama. Its miasmic spell and eruptive drama is well worth the effort; shame the project never reached the Requiem or the Mass of Life recently impressively done by David Hill on Naxos. It sounds sumptuous for a recording made just one month before the launch of the CD medium in the UK. After the high wide mountain spaces, geographically and emotionally, comes Eric Parkin's beguiling three piano preludes - the second of these flutters delightfully. Nice to hear the little Polka - anonymously generic though it is. Back to more easily assimilated and idiosyncratic Delius with Fantastic Dance. If Fenby's Second Rhapsody fails to catch the Delian essence I have no such criticism of the Irmelin Prelude which is pretty much ideal.
Holmes’ and Handley's Violin Concerto is also glorious. Handley did some of the smaller Delius for CFP alongside Eventyr. There are no compromises and the percipience he brought to Bax, especially in the 1960s-1980s, is fully engaged to Delius’s advantage. There are no grinding stylistic misjudgements. Fenby 's A Song of Summer is no whit less atmospheric than his Irmelin. A Late Lark was included in the first double-gatefold instalment in the Delius legacy LP series. Rolfe Johnson's tenor is in good and unwavering heart - all sighs and sunset. It's a gear-change to then hear the Piano Concerto which really is early; dramatic stuff closer to Liszt's Second Concerto and the Grieg than the string instrument concertos. Philip Fowke and Del Mar make no attempt to shoe-horn the music into the mature Delian style: good choice.
Del Mar launches CD 3 with a tasty and appositely shaped Walk. Fenby's Songs of Sunset follow the emotional trajectory of the Dowson poems. The solo voices of Thomas Allen and Sarah Walker - a superb ‘Beloved’ in Del Mar’s BBC broadcast of the complete Bantock Omar Khayyam - intensify the doom-laden, melancholic fatalism. The listener needs to be in the right mood for this. Walker stands down and Felicity Lott steps forward for the Idyll - Once I Walked Through a Populous City - words by Delius's favourite Walt Whitman. This great operatic duo with Allen is a glorious excrescence in the Delius output. Once again the recording complements a great performance of a rarely encountered gem. We end with that bonne-bouche, La Calinda which floats and sings in carefree innocence amid fragrant zephyrs.
The chamber music middle disc (4) has a superbly munificent Cello Sonata with Lloyd-Webber at the helm. He is fully chamber music attuned to the work’s sunset rapture. The climax is gloriously unleashed at the summative close. Strange how Unicorn and Fenby never reached the Cello Concerto in this series. That said, the Sonata would, with little effort, orchestrate most effectively as a second concerto. Ralph Holmes is equally beguiling in the three Violin Sonatas recorded by Unicorn a decade before the rest of the project. The analogue tapes have been seduced into most effortlessly pleasing sound - not at all the way I recall the thin-toned original Unicorn LP.
CD 5 has Fenby as conductor and as pianist in 25 of the songs. These have now been surveyed even more exhaustively by Stone. Walker, Lott and Rolfe Johnson are the voices here. Some of the songs can be heard on this disc in both orchestral and piano versions: for example Twilight Fancies, three of the four French language songs, To Daffodils and I-Brasil. There is a mournfulness that hangs in the air - that is the nature of this music. You would do well to sample rather than through-listen though there is no doubt that the discriminating and distinctive artistry of the three singers makes a for a benign differentiation. Felicity Lott is extremely impressive. A number of the songs allotted in her direction have a lighter fairy tread than the others as in the orchestral Let Springtime Come and the more reflectively inward In the Garden of the Seraglio. The words are in the booklet in full as they are for the other vocal works. Where the songs are not in English the original language is given with side-by-side translation - stylish choices by Heritage. A passing thought: Young Venevil's opening bars fleetingly reminded me of Scott Joplin - I wonder ...
The penultimate CD treats us to another magical Del Mar essay - this time the awkward Paris - The Song of a Great City. He takes it expansively and it works very well indeed; an improvement on Beecham, Groves and Mackerras. An Arabesque follows. The atmosphere is rather Baxian in the manner of Spring Fire and Nympholept. There’s a green interplay of light and shade and a shiver that is also captured in the words of Lord Alfred Douglas in Havergal Brian’s Wine of Summer. The 1888 Suite is in the same hands as the Violin Concerto. If the linkages here are with Lalo and Bruch the music still retains a tangy Delian DNA. Fenby is back in the saddle for the Fennimore and Gerda Intermezzo. It's done with great care yet the lucid flow and legato is kept.

The final disc starts with the Songs of Farewell - another Whitman setting. These are for choir and orchestra - the music proceeds in a poetically frictionless flux and the distancing of the voices aids this enchantment but does not blunt the determination in Joy Shipmate Joy - words also set in a song by RVW. Cynara is yet another gem among so many. It is almost film noir in this version. The two diminutive Aquarelles allow softer relaxation. Caprice and Elegy return us to the velvet-toned and impassioned Lloyd Webber amid transparent playing by Fenby. The Légende is a bit ‘Palm Court’ after the riches of the Caprice and Elegy, but no matter. Lastly we have the Straussian Life's Dance which is spiritedly spun, with élan, by Del Mar. The theme of the tone poem might well remind us of Delius's link with the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch whose paintings also have life, dance and death as their themes.
In this centenary year I wonder if the now impossibly rare early Delius operas once on the BBC and Arabesque labels will be reissued . Fingers crossed for Irmelin, Magic Fountain and Margot La Rouge. I have not given up all hope.
The Stephen Lloyd essay sets out Fenby's life story and matches it with his engagement with Delius. It might have been a trap for lesser musicians. It would be good to have a Fenby-only CD one day; this to include his Rossini on Ilkla Moor, an extensive suite from his music for the Hitchcock Jamaica Inn (1939), the Slow march Lion Limb (1952) and the Choral works: Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (1932) and For music on the eve of Palm Sunday (1933, words by Robert Nichols – whose poem Moeran set in his own very Delian Nocturne).
This set is very good value indeed. Classic Delius overwhelmingly in fruity early digital sound.

Rob Barnett


  Full Contents List
CD 1 – 65.05
1. Dance Rhapsody No. 1 (Ed. Beecham) 14.47
2. The Song of the High Hills 29.43
3. Three Piano Preludes No. 1 2.04
4. Three Piano Preludes No. 2 1.08
5. Three Piano Preludes No. 3 1.29
6. Polka – Zum Carnival 2.25
7. Fantastic Dance 3.54
8. Dance Rhapsody No. 2 8.57
2 Ambrosian Singers (Maryetta Midgley, Vernon Midgley), 3-6 Eric Parkin, 1 2 7 8 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Norman Del Mar, 2 7 8 Eric Fenby
Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London (3)-(6)
Barking Assembly Hall (7) 31 Mar 1981
All Saints Church, Tooting, London (8) 29 Dec 1986
Walthamstow Assembly Hall 5 & 6 Apr 1983
St Barnabas Church, London Aug 1990
CD 2 – 71.03
1. Irmelin Prelude 5.46
2. Concerto for Violin 26.12
3. A Song of Summer 10.13
4. A Late lark 6.21
5. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra 21.55
5 Philip Fowke, 2 Ralph Holmes, 4 Anthony Rolfe Johnson, 1-5 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 5 Norman Del Mar, 1 3 4 Eric Fenby, 2 Vernon Handley
Barking Assembly Hall (1),(4) 31 Mar - 2 Apr 1981
Henry Wood Hall, London (2) 21-22 May 1984
Watford Town Hall (3) 10-11 Feb 1981
St Barnabas Church, London (5) 12 Aug 1990

CD 3 – 72.53
1. The Walk to the Paradise Garden 11.02
Songs of Sunset
2. A Song of the setting sun
3. Cease smiling, Dear!
4. Pale amber sunlight
5. Exceeding sorrow
6. By the sad waters of separation
7. See how the trees
8. I was not sorrowful
9. They are not long, the weeping and the laughter
10. Idyll
11. La Calinda
2-9, 10 Thomas Allen, 2-9 Ambrosian Singers (Director: John McCarthy), 10 Felicity Lott, 2-9 Sarah Walker, 1-11 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Norman Del Mar, 2-11 Eric Fenby
St Barnabas Church, London (1) 15 Aug 1990
Barking Assembly Hall (10)-(11) 30 Mar - 2 Apr 1981
All Saints Church, Tooting, London (2)-(9) 29 Dec 1986
CD 4 – 64.48
1. Cello Sonata 15.18
2. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 21.08
3. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 11.52
4. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3: 1st Movement 5.27
5. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3: 2nd Movement 3.59
6. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3: 3rd Movement 6.24
Julian Lloyd Webber, 2-6 Ralph Holmes, 1-6 Eric Fenby
Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London (1) 12 Jan 1981
St Giles Church, Cripplegate (2)-(6) 20 & 21 Mar 1972
CD 5 – 73.15
1-9. Orchestral Songs 28.28
10- 25. Scandinavian, French, English Songs with Piano 43.24
Felicity Lott, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Sarah Walker, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eric Fenby.
CD 6 – 66.40
1. Paris – The Song of a Great City (Ed. Beecham) 25.41
2. An Arabesque 14.47
Suite for Violin and Orchestra
3. Pastorale (Andante quasi allegretto) 5.23
4. Intermezzo (Allegro molto vivace) 3.06
5. Elegie (Adagio cantabile) 6.02
6. Finale (Allegro moderato) 4.27
7. Fennimore and Gerda – Intermezzo 6.35
2 Thomas Allen, 2 Ambrosian Singers, 3-6 Ralph Holmes, 1-7 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Norman Del Mar, 2 7 Eric Fenby, 3-6 Vernon Handley
St Barnabas Church, London (1) 13-15 Aug 1990
All Saints Church, Tooting, London (2) 29 Dec 1986
Henry Wood Hall, London (3)-(6) 21 & 22 May 1984
Barking Assembly Hall (7) 2 Dec 1983
CD 7 – 66.43
Songs of Farewell
1. How sweet the silent backward tracings
2. I stand on some mighty eagle’s back
3. Passage to you
4. Joy, shipmate, joy!
5. Now finale to the shore
6. Cynara
Two Aquarelles
7. Aquarelle I
8. Aquarelle II
9. Caprice and Elegy
10. Legende
11. Life’s Dance
6 Thomas Allen, 1-5 Ambrosian Singers, 10 Ralph Holmes, 9 Julian Lloyd Webber, 1-11 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 11 Norman Del Mar, 1-9 Eric Fenby, 10 Vernon Handley
Watford Town Hall (1)-(5) 10 & 11 Feb 1981
Henry Wood Hall, London (10) 21 & 22 May 1984
St Barnabas Church, London (11) 13-15 Aug 1990
Barking Assembly Hall (6)-(9) 31 Mar - 2 Apr 1981
The Delius collection. Unicorn-Kanchana UKCD 2071-2077,
Volume 1 (UKCD 2071):
Dance Rhapsody no. 1 (ed. Beecham) (Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra, Normal del Mar)
The songs of the High Hills (Ambrosian singers,
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eric Fenby)
Three piano preludes (Eric Parkin, piano)
Polka - Zum Carnival (Eric Parkin, piano)
Fantastic dance (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eric Fenby)
Dance rhapsody no. 2 (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eric Fenby)
Total time: 65:02
Volume 2 (UKCD 2072)
Irmelin prelude (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eric Fenby)
Concerto for Violin (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Hadley)
A song of summer (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eric Fenby)
A late lark (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eric Fenby)
Concerto for piano and orchestra (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Normal del Mar)
Ralph Holmes, violin. Philip Fowke, piano.
Total time: 71:03
Volume 3 (UKCD 2073)
The walk to the paradise garden (conducted by Norman Del Mar)
Songs of sunset (Ambrosian singers, Thomas Allen and Sarah Walker)
Idyll (Felicity Lott)
La Calinda
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Eric Fenby
Total time: 72:53
Volume 4 (UKCD 2074)
Cello sonata
Sonata for violin and piano no. 1
Sonata for violin and piano no. 2
Sonata for violin and piano no. 3
Julian Lloyd Webber, cello, Ralph Holmes, violin and Eric Fenby, piano.
Total time: 64:48
Volume 5 (UKCD 2075)
Orchestral songs: Twilight fancies, Wine roses, The bird's story, Let springtime come, Il pleure dans mon Coeur, Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit, La lune blanche, To daffodils, I-Brasil
Songs with piano: Twilight fancies; The violet; In the garden of the Seraglio; Silken shoes; Autumn; Young Venevil; Irmelin rose; Let springtime come; Il pleure dans mon Coeur; Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit; La lune blanche; Chanson d'automne; Avant que tu ne t'en ailles; To daffodils; So white, so soft, so sweet is she; I - Brasil
Felicity Lott; Anthony Rolfe Johnson; Sarah Walker
Eric Fenby, piano
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Eric Fenby
Total time: 73:15
Volume 6 (UKCD 2076)
Paris - the songs of a great city (ed. Beecham) (Norman del Mar)
An arabesque (Thomas Allen, Ambrosian singers, conducted by Eric Fenby)
Suite for violin and orchestra (Vernon Handley)
Fennimore and Gerda - intermezzo (Eric Fenby)
Ralph Holmes, violin
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Total time: 66:40
Volume 7 (UKCD 2077)
Songs of farewell (Ambrosian singers)
Cynara (Thomas Allen)
Two aquarelles
Caprice and Elegy (Julian Lloyd-Webber, cello)
Légende (Ralph Holmes, violin and conducted by Vernon Handley)
Life's dance (Norman del Mar)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Eric Fenby except as mentioned above)
Total time: 66:43


































































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