Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) A Village Romeo and Juliet (1907) [100.32]
John Wakefield (tenor) – Sali: Elsie Morison (soprano) – Vrenchen: Neil Easton (baritone) – Dark Fiddler: Lawrence Folley (bass) – Manz: Donald McIntyre (baritone) – Marti, Bass Fiddler: Soo Bee Lee (soprano) – Sali as a child: Sheila Amit (soprano) – Vrenchen as a child: Margaret Gale (soprano) – Slim girl: Shirley Chapman (mezzo-soprano) – Wild girl: John Chorley (baritone) – Poor horn player, 2nd Bargeman), Cecil Lloyd and William Davies (baritones) – Peasants: Gwynneth Jenkins, Dilys Davies and Ruth Roberts (sopranos) – Women: Angela Wheeldon (mezzo-soprano) – Wheel of Fortune woman: Joan Clarkson (mezzo-soprano) – Cheap jewellery woman): Joan Davies (contralto) – Gingerbread woman: Tom Swift (tenor) – Showman, 3rd Bargeman): Kenneth Fawcett (baritone) – Merry-go-round man, 1st Bargeman: Sadler’s Wells Chorus and Orchestra/Meredith Davies
rec. Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 11 April 1962 A Village Romeo and Juliet: The walk to the Paradise Garden [9.01]
Blue Network Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. Ritz Theatre, New York City, 7 April 1945 PRISTINE AUDIO PACO132 [66.49 + 52.11]
Towards the end of last year, when
reviewing the reissue of Mackerras’s recording of this opera, I mentioned in passing a pirated set of LPs conducted by Meredith Davies deriving from a live performance at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. At first glance I assumed that this new set from Pristine was a straightforward transfer of that recording to CD; but, although the performing forces are identical with those IGS discs, they are heard here in a BBC broadcast relay from Sadler’s Wells’s own theatre in London. I have never heard the IGS set, but in his review of the LPs in Volume Three of Opera on Record John Steane remarks that the “audience seems to pick on all the quietest, loveliest passages for their coughing spasms.” That problem is less in evidence here, although the close of The walk to the Paradise Garden and the very final bar of the opera are both disturbed by bronchial contributions from the public, who are however considerate in reserving their applause until the music has actually ceased and are generally inoffensively quiet elsewhere. The broadcast sound too is clean and well-balanced, unlike the Alhambra recording which was described by Steane as “restricted in spaciousness and clarity”. Indeed, apart from occasional moments of overloading and some evidence of rapid and panic-stricken adjustment of the volume control, the sound is very good mono of its period. Nor does the live performance suffer from any of the orchestral slips one might expect in such a densely woven score, with only a couple of minor fluffs from the horns and some overly rebarbative low woodwind to cause any concern.
And the casting here is very good, too. In his review John Steane comments that “its lovers are truly suited to their roles” and commends both Elsie Morison and John Wakefield as the best exponents of them on disc (he was writing before the appearance of the Mackerras set with Helen Field and Arthur Davies). I still have a particular liking for Elisabeth Harwood on the later commercial EMI set conducted by Meredith Davies – nobody else can quite approach the sense of calm stillness that she achieves at the beginning of Scene Four – but like Arthur Davies, John Wakefield is young and eager as Sali in a way that eludes Robert Tear on EMI. John Steane was fairly rude about Neil Easton as the Dark Fiddler, describing him as having “some character but not really enough voice”; what struck me was a lack of substance in the lower register but a ringing top which compensated to a considerable degree, but I have to admit that either John Shirley-Quirk (on the later Davies set) or Thomas Hampson (for Mackerras) have more sense of presence in the enigmatic role. Steane also described the Marti (incorrectly identified as Manz) of the young Donald McIntyre (long before his days as Wotan) as “excessively rough-sounding”; but I welcomed his solidity of tone is a role that is after all pretty unpleasant.
In my previous review I commented that the later Davies recording on EMI employed a revised version of the libretto by Tom Hammond which I assumed had been commissioned for that performance; but here ten years earlier we are given the same revisions, which do much to overcome the unidiomatic translation originally provided by Delius’s wife Jelka Rosen. When reviewing the EMI set for the Gramophone, Deryck Cooke had complained about alterations of the rhythms to accommodate this revised text, commenting in particular on Harwood’s delivery of the line “what that woman said is true”; here Elsie Morison gives us the same line with the exact rhythm of Delius’s score, which may sound slightly less natural as a setting of the words but which preserves the sense of solemnity which Cooke missed with Harwood. Indeed, the precision of the singing throughout, with the exception of the rather blowsy chorus, is exceptional and for much of the time there is no need to have recourse to a printed text (which is just as well, since none is provided).
In my review of the Mackerras set I lamented the rather prosaic treatment of the closing scene with the bargemen on the river, where his Austrian singers lacked the sort of magic that would convincingly enable Vreli to confuse their voices with those of angels. On his EMI studio set Davies scored strongly with the voices of such singers as John Noble and Ian Partridge as well as a real sense of enchantment; and miraculously he manages to achieve the same effect here with much less well-known singers. Elsewhere he has a tendency to be somewhat brisk with Delius’s writing (notably in the dream sequence of Scene Four), no doubt with dramatic considerations in mind, and it has to be admitted that the decidedly boxy acoustic of the old Sadler’s Wells theatre cannot begin to compete with the studio sound provided for Davies by EMI, or for Mackerras by Argo. Nevertheless, for those who love this score as much as I do, there is a real sense of magic in this performance which is most attractive; and for those who already own either of the studio sets, this might well be regarded as a valuable adjunct. As I mentioned last year, the later Davies recording remains unavailable separately; so for those wanting the complete opera by itself in a modern recording, choice is restricted to Mackerras (now on a mid-price Decca reissue available from Presto Classical).
The second disc concludes with a 1945 recording of the interlude The walk to the Paradise Garden conducted with an American orchestra by Beecham, but this is not really competitive with either of Beecham’s recordings of the complete opera with the BBC Symphony Orchestra or the Royal Philharmonic, and some of Beecham’s adjustments of the tempo sound excessive by modern standards (although I have no doubt that Delius, always willing to accept Beecham’s adjustments of his scores, would have approved). The recording has been well served by its remastering, but the dynamic range has been severely restricted even by comparison with the theatre performance earlier on this same disc. Tracking on the discs is limited to individual scenes, with separate cues provided only for the dream sequence and the Paradise Garden interlude.
In conclusion may I once again put in a plea for someone to reissue the BBC tapes of the early Delius operas Irmelin, The magic fountain and Margot le rouge, once available on Artium CDs but long since deleted? Amazon currently lists sets of the latter two at prices ranging from £48.74 upwards, with two copies of Irmelin quoted at a whopping £175.00 and £196.00. Who on earth would be willing to pay such sums, no matter how desirable the issues?
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We are grateful to Stephen Lloyd who writes as follows:-
I was most interested to read Paul Corfield Godfrey’s sympathetic review of the recording recently issued by Pristine of a live performance of Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet from the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London on 10 April 1962. In his review he refers to a pirate LP issue of a performance of this opera ‘at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford’ with the same soloists and conductor (Meredith Davies). In fact the Pristine CDs and the pirate issue on IGS LPs (IGS079/80) are of the same performance. This then new production received three performances in Bradford on April 3, 5 and 7 as part of the Delius Centenary Festival held in Delius’s birth town. It then went to London on April 10 and it was this performance that was broadcast live from the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The IGS discs confirm the date of performance as being that of the broadcast but the accompanying leaflet erroneously states that it was ‘a live performance from Bradford’, hence the confusion. No doubt those responsible for issuing the LP set in America had assumed that it was part of the Festival held in March and April 1962. I myself also recorded the broadcast (having to leave out two scenes as I couldn’t then afford to buy enough tape for the whole broadcast!) and I could probably confirm that we are dealing with one and the same performance if I were to dig out the whole tape, but I feel that is hardly necessary.
IGS also released on LP two other Delius operas: Fennimore and Gerda (IGS023, 3 sides) from a BBC broadcast in March 1962, Stanford Robinson conducting – without the spoken introductions, but the complete broadcast does exist, and Koanga from performances in Washington DC in December 1970 (IGS081-2), with the same two lead soloists who took part in the 1972 Sadler’s Wells performances (Groves) and the subsequent EMI recording. All these are listed in my Delius Discography on the Delius Trust/Delius Society website.
Back to the Village Romeo and Juliet performance, I agree totally with Paul Corfield Godfrey when he writes that ‘there is a real sense of magic in this performance’. The recording has great presence and one very soon disregards any shortcomings in the Sadler’s Wells Theatre’s acoustics. It is a performance that I frequently return to, especially for Elsie Morison’s Vreli.
Thanks very much for this. I took the information regarding the IGS issue on LPs (of which I have never seen a copy) from the information and discography provided in Volume Three of Opera on Record edited by Alan Blyth (page 306) which quite specifically attributes the performance to the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford. (This discography also mentions the other two IGS issues of Delius operas to which Stephen Lloyd refers.) The compilation of the discographies in that volume are ascribed to Malcolm Walker, but John Steane also reviews the set of Village Romeo and Juliet (pages 292-3) again describing the recording as originating from a 'live' performance (the quotation marks are his) at the Alhambra Theatre. I have however no doubt that, as Stephen suggests, the two performances are "one and the same" and that the ascription in Opera on Record derives directly from incorrect information supplied with the original LPs. Presumably Malcom Walker would confirm this.
Incidentally it is interesting that Opera on Record, while mentioning the Washington performances of Koanga (also reviewed by John Steane) omits any mention of the Camden Festival performance conducted by Sir Charles Groves which was at one time available on the Intaglio label INCD7442, 1993. I have heard this set (which includes incidentally one passage in Act Three Scene One where the performance threatens to fall apart altogether as Eugene Holmes suffers a severe memory lapse), and presume that this set is distinct from the previously available IGS LPs also with Holmes. The matter is to a large extent academic, since Groves' studio recording (with the excellent and thrilling Holmes again) comprehensively trumps his live performance, but this does appear to be quite distinct from the live performance reviewed by Steane which refers to the audience coughing "coming out loud and clear" which I don't remember noticing on the Intaglio discs. Mind you, I was less troubled than he was by the audience's "coughing spasms" on the recording under discussion, another factor which led me to assume that we were talking about two different performances; nor did I feel, as he did, that the recording was "restricted in spaciousness and clarity" although this could well have been the result of Pristine's excellent remastering of the tapes.
I would suggest that, rather than altering my original review, which was based as I say on the grounds of previously published and generally available information as well as some distinct areas of disagreement with John Steane's assessment of the set, this exchange of e-mails might well be appended to that review. It would act as a valuable corrective there not only to my own assumptions but also to the entry in Malcolm Walker's discography included in Opera on Record as well - assuming that my suggestion about the source of Mr Walker's description is correct.
See also the exchange of correspondence at the foot of my earlier review of the Mackerras set (which I wrote in November 2015) where I also referred to the performance on record as deriving from a Bradford performance.
Click here to go to November 2015 review.
I notice one other discrepancy in the information provided in Opera on Record. John Steane's review specifically refers to Donald McIntyre as singing the role of Manz, while Malcolm Walker's discography correctly identifies him as singing Marti. It is possible therefore that there was even greater confusion and ambiguity in the information provided with the IGS LPs than Stephen has suggested. PCG