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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Delius in Norway
Norwegian Bridal Procession (1889) [3.43]
Paa Vidderne (On the Mountains) (1888-9, rev. 1892) [14.08]
Two Songs from the Norwegian * (1889, orch. 1908) [7.23]: Prinsessen (The Princess - Twilight Fancies) [3.52] and En Fuglevise (‘A Bird Ditty’) [3.27]
Sleigh Ride (Winter Night) (1887, orch. 1889) [5.36]
Folkeraadet (The People’s Parliament) (ed. Sir Thomas Beecham and Eric Fenby) (1897) [25.29]
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring - No 1 from Two Pieces for Small Orchestra (Introducing a Norwegian Folksong) (1912) [6.13]
Eventyr (Once Upon A Time) (1915-17) [15.10]
Ann-Helen Moen (soprano) *
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 15-18 April 2013
CHANDOS CHSA 5131 [78.32]

“I don’t claim to be a British composer”, said Frederick Delius about himself. As the late lamented Christopher Palmer observed, the composer was a true cosmopolitan. The best known composition in this collection, the ever-popular On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, is proof enough. Composed in 1912, it might be perceived as quintessentially English, but it was written when Delius was living at Grez-sur-Loing, south of Paris. Any cuckoo Delius would have heard then would have been ‘French’; and the work’s tune was based on a Norwegian folksong. Delius loved the scenic grandeur of Norway and its effect on him was profound; it became his spiritual home. The Bergen Philharmonic players respond instinctively to Delius’s idiom and so sensitively to this little jewel - and all the other works in this programme - delivering for Davis a sublimely tender reading. He is assisted by excellent, beautifully-balanced, warm sound from the Chandos engineers.
 
Delius’s early Symphonic Poem, Paa Vidderne (‘On the Mountains’) has all the extravagant, indulgent Late Romantic traits. The influence of Wagner and Tchaikovsky is clear coupled with Nordic pastoral evocations. The emergence of Delius’s own individual style is evident. The work anticipates Delius’s masterpiece, The Song of the High Hills. Davis delivers a thrilling, evocative performance of this appealing work.
 
The latest work here is Eventyr literally translated as ‘Tales of Adventure’. It is an atmospheric composition, evocative of the Norwegian countryside: its fjords, mountains and forests. It’s also descriptive of the ‘warm-hearted superstitious country-folk’ and their fears especially of the trolls, giants, demons and pixies that stalk the darkness. Davis’s reading is intensely exciting and ominous through these pages although those shouts could have been that bit more blood-curdling.
 
The most substantial work, time-wise, here, is Delius’s Incidental Music for the play Folkeraadet (The People’s Parliament). The play debunked pompous, ineffectual politicians and was inevitably controversial. Delius faced a storm of protest when it was perceived that he was parodying the Norwegian national anthem. This suite includes two brief ‘melodramas’ scored for strings; both wistfully romantic in tone. As well as the ‘Act I Prelude’, there are three ‘Interludes’, varying in mood from the jovial and romantic to darkly tragic. It was Delius’s use of the national anthem in the third interlude to underscore scenes of rows of coffins of politicians slain in battle that caused such consternation in Oslo.
 
Soprano Ann-Helen Moen joins the Bergen players to sing Nos. 3 and 7 of Songs from the Norwegian. These wereoriginal written for voice and piano and orchestrated by Delius in 1908 at the request of Olga Wood: Henry Wood’s first wife. In ‘Twilight Fancies’, Moen’s plaintive tone accords delicately with the Princess’s plight. She first dismisses the horn player, then summons him again and finally, in tearful despair, asks God “What is my great flaw?” The enchanting ‘The Birds’ Story’ is much more joyful, Delius skilfully evoking a delightful chorus of birdsong as two lovers enjoy their afternoon’s tryst. That said, the orchestra intimates that their parting might have been sad.

The joyful Norwegian Bridal Procession - Delius’s orchestration of the second of Grieg’s ‘Pictures of Norwegian Life’ - has an appealing rusticity with folk dance rhythms and birdsong allusions. Sleigh Ride has long been a favourite Delius miniature with its delightful picture of a sleigh journeying over snow, bells a-ringing. Its lovely wistful middle section again shows the influence of Grieg.
 
Another winning release in the continuing Andrew Davis Delius collection.
 
Ian Lace  



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