Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Appalachia (arr. Eric Fenby) (1896) [38.02]
Two Aquarelles (1917) (Lento, ma non troppo [2.24], Gaily, but not quick [2.19])
Irmelin Prelude (1890-92 rev. 1931) [5.09]
Dance Rhapsody No. 1 (1908) [13.06]
Dance Rhapsody No. 2 (1916) [8.00]
Romance (1896) [6.48]
Over the Hills and Far Away (1895-97) [13.39]
Florida Suite (1888) (Daybreak [12.35]; By the River [6.34]; Sunset [9.54]; At Night [8.37])
North Country Sketches (1913-14) (Autumn [8.09]; Winter Landscape [4.17]; Dance [6.28]; The March of Spring [8.04])
Romance: Julian Lloyd Webber (cello); Bengt Forsberg (piano)
Appalachia: Daniel Washington (baritone) Chorus of Welsh National Opera
Orchestra of Welsh National Opera/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Abbey Road studios, London, September 1996; Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 1989-1990
PRESTO DECCA 473 716-2 [76.09 + 78.47]

The great irony here is in the title of this Decca series, The British Music Collection for Delius himself said, “I don’t claim to be a British composer.” Spoken as a true cosmopolitan, for Delius’s music reflects his love of America, France and Scandinavia as well as a nod towards England. Instead of the shorter pieces that are included on CD 1 this collection would have seemed more representative, for me anyway, if it had included his reading of the early large-scale orchestral work, Paris. It can be found as part of the Decca 8 CD Delius Edition 478 3078. Our editor, Rob Barnett, found this reading too relaxed and preferred, as I do, Mackerras’s earlier, 1991 EMI recording (Classics for Pleasure 5758032).

Mackerras’s Appalachia is uneven and disappoints compared to the classic readings of Beecham, Barbirolli and recently Sir Andrew Davis. Mackerras is ponderous in the opening Molto moderato and doom-laden with heavy drum beats in the opening of the final movement with its plaintive baritone and chorus in the closing pages. More successful are the shorter pieces making up the rest of CD 1 especially the two Dance Rhapsodies. No. 1, the longest and most densely scored for large orchestra, is very atmospheric and vital in Mackerras’s reading and suggests Arabian, Slav and Celtic dances. Rhapsody No. 2 has that gorgeously wistful melody.

CD 2 opens with Mackerras’s lusty reading of Over the hills and far away. Although Mackerras might suggest that the hills are likely to be in Yorkshire, there is every likelihood that in fact they were Norwegian in the composer’s mind. The slower wistful, nostalgic section tends to sag a little.

The Florida Suite is for the most part successful, atmospheric and scintillating, evocative of Florida’s natural surroundings. The famous La Calinda tune in the opening ‘Daybreak’ movement is rendered exquisitely with resplendent woodwind playing. The opposite concluding movement ‘At Night’ is equally atmospheric with its soft mellow melody tenderly spun. The ‘Sunset’ third movement’s dance is wildly abandoned. The concluding North Country Sketches takes us to the composer’s birth region, the English county of Yorkshire. Delius himself reminisced about walking and riding a pony “over the open hills and dales that could be both bleak and lonely and yet austerely beautiful.” We are aware of this special beauty of isolation in these sound pictures. We begin with ‘Autumn’ and the impression of winds soughing in the trees, then the still iciness as ‘Winter’ imposes its unrelentingly iron grip on the landscape. Finally, after the ‘Dance’ movement, in the final ‘The March of Spring’ we have the return of life to the ‘woodlands, meadows and silent moors’, with the rapturous evocation of bird song, the joyous movements of animals and insects.

A 2 CD set with many plus points and a bargain for those just beginning to appreciate the special beauty that is Delius.

Ian Lace

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