The Hallé on its own label has been releasing a number of splendid
recordings most of which have been live with some material taken from
rehearsal sessions. This latest offering comprises shamefully neglected
music from Holst and Delius with the latter’s Cynara
virtually forgotten score.
The opening work, The Hymn of Jesus
, Op. 37, penned by Holst
in 1917 and introduced in 1920, was at one time regularly performed.
Considered a masterpiece by some the score is programmed far less often
these days. It represents Holst’s creative and humanitarian reaction
to the horrors and the suffering of the Great War. It seems that Holst
was especially affected by the sickening slaughter at the Battle of
the Somme and this may have been a major stimulus for the work. The
to The Hymn of Jesus
is a setting of the Latin
texts Vexilla regis
and Pange lingua
by the poet and hymnodist
Venantius Fortunatus. In the main body of the score the Hymn
employs a text from the Apocryphal Acts of St. John that Holst himself
translated from the Greek. With its opening based on plainsong melodies
commenced by trombones and followed by the cor anglais the Prelude
takes on an atmospheric character reminding me of In the Fen Country
and the Norfolk Rhapsody No.1
by Holst’s friend, Ralph
Vaughan Williams. The entrance of the sopranos casts a compelling spell
on the breathtaking proceedings. Right from the words ‘Glory
to Thee, Father
’ at the beginning of the Hymn
the combined choral and orchestra performance maintains an elevated
level of a near-spiritual quality. The result is quite compelling. I
found the sound quality from the Bridgewater Hall first class being
especially well balanced. My 1990 St. Jude’s Church, London account
of The Hymn of Jesus
performed by the
London Symphony Orchestra
and Chorus under Richard Hickox on Chandos has served me well for a
number of years but this new Hallé recording under Sir Mark Elder
with its additional atmosphere and intensity now takes precedence.
The next work Delius’s Sea Drift
for baritone, chorus and
orchestra from 1903/04 is a setting of verse by Walt Whitman; a poet
who was extremely fashionable at that time.
Delius uses text taken mainly from the Whitman poem ‘Out of
the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
’ which relates a tragic tale
of the love and pain of separation, through a boy’s eyes, of two
nesting seagulls until one day the she-bird flew off and never returned.
A work that has also been judged as a masterwork although shamelessly
neglected in recent times Sea Drift
is a substantial score lasting
twenty-seven minutes here. I reported from the Bridgewater Hall at this
actual performance of Sea Drift
given in March 2011 with the
Hallé joined by Roderick Williams and Hallé Choir. The
Hallé and Sir Mark were clearly inspired by the quality of the
rising to the occasion with sublime effect. The rocking
motion of the sea waves is evoked throughout this heavily atmospheric
score, shaped with delicacy and played with a shimmering radiance. I’ve
not heard the beautifully blended Hallé Choir in finer voice.
The sudden entry of the choir in ‘Shine! Shine! Shine!
is gloriously rendered and the collaborative section for the choir ‘O
’ and baritone Roderick Williams ‘Shake
’ is interpreted with poignant intensity. A soloist
at his peak, Williams sings with consummate skill; so natural and unaffected.
Ideally the choral textures of this Bridgewater Hall performance could
be just slightly clearer. I have long admired the 1993 Poole account
of Sea Drift
performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
and Choirs with soloist Bryn Terfel conducted by Richard Hickox on Chandos.
This new release from the Hallé with Roderick Williams under
the baton of Sir Mark Elder contains additional atmosphere and an extraordinary
radiance, and has become my first choice.
The second Delius work is Cynara
for solo baritone and orchestra.
This setting of a celebrated poem by Ernest Dowson is only very rarely
seen on concert programmes; a hidden gem and sadly almost forgotten.
Sketched out in 1907, Delius’s score was originally intended as
part of his wonderful cycle Songs of Sunset
for soloists, chorus
and orchestra. Cynara
was completed from the sketches in 1929
one of the first products of the partnership between Delius and his
amanuensis Eric Fenby. Right from the opening bars the shimmering radiance,
so prevalent in Delius, is palpable together with an aching sorrow voiced
by the beguiling solo violin part. Atmospheric and highly engaging this
is a stunning performance with soloist Roderick Williams impressing
once again. He displays such moving expression and crystal clear diction.
Recorded in February 2012 at the BBC studios at MediaCityUK, Salford
the sound quality is slightly closer than for the other two scores:
vividly clear and well balanced.
The heights of excellence that the Hallé forces are consistently
achieving under Elder are quite remarkable. Placing a strong emphasis
on expression and such judicious pacing the performers seem to relish
every note. This is an indispensable addition to any serious collection
of music for chorus and orchestra.
See also review by John
Holst discography & review