Frederick DELIUS
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) [5:57]
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.  

Ian Lace

see also review by Nick Barnard

A splendid recording.