MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS
Sound Samples & Downloads

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Mass of Life (1904-5) [98:24] *
Prelude and Idyll (1902, 1933) [19:55]
Janice Watson (soprano); Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo)*; Andrew Kennedy (tenor)*; Alan Opie (baritone)
The Bach Choir*; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill
rec. The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK, 26-28 November 2011
NAXOS 8.572861-62 [47:31 + 70:48]

Experience Classicsonline

Cards on the table, first off: I admit that I struggle with Delius’ Mass of Life. It has many distinguished advocates, all of whom I respect deeply, who argue that it is one of the great choral works of the 20th Century, but I just don’t hear it. It has wonderful moments, for sure - more of which below - but it also has some wearying longueurs where I wish the music would just hurry up and get on with something … anything! I’m not talking about the moments of intentional stillness, such as the beginning of Part Two: those are wonderful! It’s just that there are times, particularly in the second part, where I can’t help but think that Delius gets caught up in his own philosophical navel-gazing, too overawed by Nietzsche’s ideas to assess them critically or to respond to them with sufficient musical skill.
All that said, this performance has done more than any other I’ve heard to win me over ... somewhat. David Hill brings the score to life in a way that you seldom hear and his performers are fully paid up for the project so that they sing and play with full commitment. The only other readily available recording is by Richard Hickox on Chandos, and it also uses the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, so there are ripe grounds for comparison, though I should say from the off that I think Hill’s is now the better buy.
There are technical reasons for this, most notably the recorded sound which is superb. The Naxos engineers have done a great job of capturing the acoustic of the Lighthouse, picking out each line with more precision than did Chandos, whose wall-of-sound is effective but has a propensity to overwhelm in places. Each line is clearly audible, even the instrumental lines, such as the harps, which could get lost in other contexts, including a live performance. Hill is also blessed with excellent soloists. Alan Opie as Zarathustra is excellent, more declamatory and more arresting than Peter Coleman-Wright, who can sound gravelly on the Chandos recording. Janice Watson and Catherine Wyn-Rogers are also very good, but the one who really comes as balm to the ears is Andrew Kennedy. His gorgeous, honey-sweet tenor is a delight to listen to, leavening the texture every time he appears and quickening the ear whenever he turns up in the big ensembles.
However, the thing that really sets this performance apart is Hill’s conducting. He gets inside the mood of each movement in a way I found even more convincing than Hickox. It’s a commonplace that the opening chorus of each part is full of energy, but Hill elevates that dynamism to a new level. The opening chord of Part One is like the crack of a starting pistol and the whole of that first movement proceeds with such exuberance as to be uplifting and exhilarating, perhaps the place in the work where text and music fit each other most successfully. He captures this effervescent life force beautifully, and he does so even more successfully in the two great dance-songs, which carried me along much more convincingly than did Hickox. The first one is a triumph: it is shaped organically so that it grows naturally out of the opening recitatives and when the fugue arrives on Das ist ein Tanz the whirl of the dance is almost bewildering. This exhilarating sweep carries on into the evening scene of the second part where Zarathustra comes upon the dancing maidens. Here the music carries on its exhilarating sweep, if anything even more so than in the first movement, and Hill builds the multifaceted edifice in a way that even won over a cynic like me.
It is to his credit that he is every bit as successful with the quieter moments. The famous introduction to Part Two, On the Mountains, is spellbindingly played (and recorded), Hill making a virtue out of stillness as the horns call gently to one another, and he is just as fine when capturing the nocturnal mood of the evening scenes. Here the playing of the orchestra comes into its own too, with rich, swelling lower winds and glowing brass underpinned by a swelling bed of support from the strings. It encapsulates very well the mood of longing so intrinsic to Delius at his best and Hill controls it so that it doesn’t sound sentimental but alive. I can’t say the same about all of Part Two - parts of the fourth and fifth movements I find unbearably tedious - but if you want to explore the Mass of Life then this is now the best place to start. It’s better recorded and, on balance, better performed than Hickox’s version for Chandos and it’s also a lot cheaper at Naxos bargain price.
The Prelude and Idyll makes an unusual but effective filler, less substantial than the Requiem which Hickox has for his coupling but satisfying in a different way. The music began life in the opera Margot la Rouge, unperformed in the composer’s lifetime, and towards the end of life, with the help of Eric Fenby, Delius returned to it and extracted this music to create a wholly new work for the concert hall. The prelude has a gently pastoral air to it, while the Idyll is a gently reflective dialogue where two lovers remember their encounter and recall it in idealised language with passionate music to match. It’s sung very well by Opie and Watson, though she is prone to a little shrillness at times.
Simon Thompson

see also review by Rob Barnett




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Error processing SSI file