Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Delius Series - Volume 4 - French Masterworks
Prelude to opera Margot la Rouge (1901-02) [3:40]
In a Summer Garden (1908) [15:43]
Five Songs to words by Paul Verlaine: (Il pleure dans mon cœur(1895) orch. c.1915 Philip Heseltine [2:53]; Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit (1895) orch. c.1915 Philip Heseltine [2:36]; La lune blanche (1910) orch. c.1915 Philip Heseltine [2:22]; Chanson d'automne (1911) orch. 2011 Bo Holten [2:10]; Avant que tu ne t'en ailles (1919) orch. 2011 Bo Holten [3:37])
Paris: A Nocturne (The Song of a Great City) for orchestra (1899-1900) [21:00]
Henriette Bonde-Hansen (soprano)
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Bo Holten
rec. 10 October, 21 December 2011; 21/24 May 2012, Symfonisk Sal, Musikhuset Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark
DANACORD DACOCD 728 [54:08] 

In 2012 the year of the 150th anniversary of Delius’s birth it is good to see a good number of releases of Delius’s music.
With this disc Danacord’s Delius series surefootedly piloted by Bo Holten has reached volume 4. The series commenced in 2007 with volume 1 Danish Masterworks quickly followed the same year by volume 2 Norwegian Masterworks. After a five year gap the series recommenced earlier this year with volume 3 English Masterworks. The Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Denmark is not one of the best known orchestras yet this Delius series has been a sheer delight from start to finish. Continuing the Danish theme Holten has conducted all four volumes and another consistent factor is the impressive singing of leading Danish soprano Henriette Bonde-Hansen. 

It was in 1888 that Delius aged 26 left the Leipzig Conservatoire for Paris. Delius had begun to cultivate friendships with members of the cultural side of Parisian society. During the First World War, apart from some time spent in England and Norway, Delius made France his home, living with Jelka Rosenat Grez-sur-LoingnearFontainebleau. He later married Jelka in 1903. The works on this release were written between 1895/1919 spanning some 24 years which is roughly the first half of Delius’s period in France. The opening work is the Prelude to the one act opera or lyric drama Margot la Rouge. Composed in 1901/02 to a libretto by Berthe Gaston-Danville (pseudonym Mme. Rosenval) this verismo opera is a melodrama based on seedy Parisian life and is set in a backstreet café/bar. Composed in 1908 and titled ‘a fantasy for orchestra’ In a Summer Garden could easily be a musical depiction of Delius’s garden at Grez. Delius appended to the score several lines of verse by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Between the years 1895 and 1919 Delius wrote songs to words by the French poet Paul Verlaine, an adherent of the nineteenth century art movement known as Symbolism. The five songs were not conceived as a cycle but they have been suitably grouped here. Delius expressly wished all his Verlaine settings to be sung in French. The first two songs Il pleure dans mon cæur (Tears fall in my heart) and Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit (The sky above the roof), both written in 1895, were orchestrated about 1915 by Philip Heseltine. From 1910 the third song La lune blanche (The white moon) is again a Heseltine make-over but it came later in 1915. The final two songs Chanson d'automne (Autumn Song) from 1911 and Avant que tu ne t'en ailles (Before you go away) from 1919 were both orchestrated by Bo Holten in 2011; I would imagine especially for this recording. The final work on the release and the longest is his tone poem Paris: A Nocturne (The Song of a Great City) for large orchestra. It was written in 1899-1900 at Grez. Delius held a great affection for Paris as suggested by the score’s full title Paris, A Night Piece - The Song of a Great City. Delius champion Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the British première of Paris in 1908. I learned that after Delius’s death Fredrick Ashton choreographed the score as a ballet danced by Margot Fonteyn at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London in 1936. 

Danish-born Bo Holten conducts attractive and sensitive performances revealing the orchestra’s sure predilection for Delius. Bonde-Hansen is a light attractive soprano, with clear diction who is able to project her voice well. Maybe some listeners will find the Danish soprano’s fluttery vibrato uncomfortable listening. I did at first but it was a feature I soon became accustomed to. My only cause for concern about this release, not one that bothers me unduly but may distract others, is the initial sameness of the Delian soundworld. At first hearing all the works on the release generally share dreamy and shimmering, atmospheric writing with seemingly little in the way of melodic variation. More concentrated listening will reveal numerous subtle differences but they are not necessarily obvious. The sound quality is clear and warmly atmospheric with a decent balance. I can favourably report that full French texts with English translations are included in the booklet. In addition the liner-notes state that these are the first recordings of the orchestral songs in French.
On this Danacord issue everything about these performances feels just right. Beautifully performed and recorded this release will become a treasured disc in my Delius collection.
Michael Cookson

Everything about these performances feels just right. 

Other Delius on Danacord 
DACOCD536 Danish Masterworks
DACOCD592 Norwegian Masterworks
DACOCD717 Rare Historic Delius
DACOCD721 English Masterworks