RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Orchestral Music transcribed for two pianos - Volume 1
Dance Rhapsody No. 1 (1908) (arr. Percy Grainger) [13:39]
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) (arr. Rudolf Schmidt-Wunsdorf)
Brigg Fair (An English Rhapsody) (1907) (arr. Philip Heseltine) [15:57]
Poem of Life and Love (1918) (arr. Balfour Gardiner and Eric Fenby) [19:20]
A Song of Summer (1929) (arr. Eric Fenby) [9:21]
La Calinda (1886-7) (arr. Joan Trimble) [3:39]
Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi (pianos)
rec. Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, 21-22 April 2011.
Recording made with the support of The Delius Society.
SOMM SOMMCD 0112 [68:04]
Fixed attitudes in my advanced age have made me rather suspicious of anything
outside the norm, so that news of this disc made me fearful. After all, I thought,
how could such transcriptions maintain the subtle magic colours of Delius’s
orchestrations? After hearing it, and with just quite minor qualifications,
I had to admit that the arrangers had captured the essence of Delius’s
music remarkably well. After all, the arrangers were committed Delians and the
album is supported by luminaries: The Delius Society, Sir John Eliot Gardiner,
Nicolas Bell of the British Library, Barry Peter Ould of the Percy Grainger
Society and Roger Fenby.
Arrangers of orchestral scores for two pianos must show sensitivity to the composer’s
music and its style and colouring. This necessitates demonstrating intelligence
and imagination beyond merely sharing bass and treble notes between the two
pianos. There’s also the distribution of the main theme and material between
the two players and blending the parts to achieve not only transparency and
balance but also a satisfying musicality, subtlety and poetry. As Martin Lee-Browne
suggests in his notes, “Two pianos [can] produce a marvellously warm sonority,
and the medium allows, of course, many more of the inner strands of the orchestral
texture to be heard in duets.”
Of the two better-known popular short pieces here, Joan Trimble’s arrangement
is more successful. Her take on La Calinda is captivatingly joyous and
extrovert. It sounds large and spacious with its runs and arpeggios glistening
across the soundstage contrasting with its warm nostalgic slower sections. It
lasts just 3.39 not 9.21 as printed. I was just a little disconcerted by a rather
heavy bass tread through the final bars from the left hand piano. I wish I could
have been as enthusiastic about the On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
arrangement. I was not moved nearly as muchOn Hearing the First Cuckoo in
Spring. I was hoping for rapt beauty but to my ears this cuckoo - the call
at any rate - was somewhat wooden and lacking in spontaneity.
Turning to the lesser-known Delius, the Philip Heseltine arrangement of Brigg
Fair was magical. Its gentle pastoral atmosphere was magically caught. That
lovely second variation was simply gorgeous. Those first notes of the tune are
exquisitely elongated, with the decorations suggesting birdsong, distant bells
and quietly flowing brooks. Percy Grainger’s arrangement of Dance Rhapsody
No. 1 is equally successful. After the meditative, mournful opening, the
dance proper emphatically breaks through, cheerful and cocky. The pianists rollick
their way forward until they are slowed by the more wistful and dreamier material
which halts their hedonism, although not for long. A Song of Summer is
nicely evocative, too, with the two pianos subtly capturing the colours and
shimmerings of a hazy afternoon. You can imagine insects, butterflies and gently
dripping waters. The nostalgic central section is most affecting before passing
clouds threaten the peace until the music fades into evening tranquillity.
The most substantial work here is Delius’s A Poem of Life and Love.
This is very rarely heard and there are few recordings in its orchestral dress.
It makes demands not only on its performers but also on its listeners. This
skilful arrangement by Eric Fenby and Balfour Gardiner might help to redress
the balance. After a dark opening we hear drama and the alternation of material
representing “Heroism (Life) and a passionate feeling for nature (Love)”
This is a deeply felt reading with an urgency of life-affirming love and pity
for its transience.
Minor reservations cannot discourage Recording of the Month status for
this splendid Delius recording.
see also review by Nick
A splendid recording.