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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Orchestral and Choral Works
A Village Romeo and Juliet
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. 1929-57
No texts
WARNER CLASSICS 9029586926 [7 CDs: 512:40]

Nearly a decade ago EMI released a series of box sets devoted to Beecham’s art, one of which was largely given over to a number of his Delius recordings. This was a 6-CD box of which the last disc was non-Delian and included music by German, Bantock, Bax and Berners (see review). Given that there is significant duplication in this much reissued material it might be helpful to dispense with unnecessary critical appraisal, much of which is redundant in any case given it’s Delius-and-Beecham, but to focus instead on specifically what’s in this latest 7-CD box. I should add that at the time of writing the box costs £11.70 from Presto Classical, so it’s an absolute steal.

Each disc is housed in an attractive miniaturized LP sleeve with the track details on the back. The first two CDs are straight reruns of the corresponding discs in the 2011 English Music box. The transfers date from 2001 or 2011. Disc 3 differs somewhat. Dance Rhapsody No.1, the Violin Concerto with Jean Pougnet and Paa vidderne are in the same old 1992 restorations and it’s surely time now for a new remastering. Two brief footnotes; Paa vidderne is now termed On the Heights whereas it used to be On the Mountains. When is a height a mountain? And EMI and its derivatives have never made it clear that Pougnet plays Beecham’s edition of the Concerto, not Sammons’ (there are small differences). In this new box we find, as we didn’t in that earlier one, the Piano Concerto with the conductor’s wife whose name I have amended from Warner’s homely-sounding Betty Beecham to Betty Humby Beecham which is, I think, the correct way to put things as this was the name by which she was professionally known after her marriage. Clearly, she was hardly a pianist in Moiseiwitch’s class and it’s one of those disappointments in Beecham’s Delius discography that whilst he provided superior accompaniments in both concertos his soloists were far inferior to the competition. The final item in CD3 is the Prelude to Part II of A Mass of Life, a standalone recording made four years before he conducted the whole work. This has not appeared on CD before, to the best of my knowledge, and this transfer comes from 1979 so I assume, given that was the centenary of Beecham’s birth, that it derives from one of the LPs released to mark the event – though I have to say it’s not on any of the eight Beecham World Records Retrospect discs issued by EMI.

CD4 and part of CD5 contain A Village Romeo and Juliet, and Sea Drift is follows in the fifth disc, precisely mirroring the English Music box. Remastering is unchanged (1992) and could do with updating. 30 years has elapsed and whilst they’re perfectly decent, there’s still work to be done. One addition to CD5 is the 1936 recording of In a Summer Garden with the LPO in a good 2017 remastering.

It’s really only most of the final two discs that spring some kind of novelty, relative or otherwise as the English Music box, as noted, stopped its Delius restorations at disc five. These last two discs focus more on the pre-war LPO recordings. Hassan, the extracts from Koanga, Appalachia and Eventyr were recorded between 1934-38. They were also restored in 2017. The Song of the High Hills was in CD3 of the English Music box and reappears here though something has gone awry with the recording information; Warner has left off the recording dates of this and the unwary might think this was a pre-war affair. It’s not. It was recorded in 1946 and is in the same 1992 transfer as before.

In 1929 Beecham was the piano accompanist to Dora Labette in five songs and in 1938 he provided orchestral accompaniments to four more for her to sing; no doubt his composition lessons with Messager in Paris many years earlier had equipped him well for the task. I’m disappointed that Warner couldn’t get hold of better 78rpm copies for a couple of these. Iremelin Rose is very ‘shellacy’ and the remastering doesn’t disguise it any more than it does the ticks and scratches in Le Ciel est par-dessus le toit. I have to say there’s also a bit of loud crackle on the unaccompanied wordless chorus in the Hassan incidental music to be found in CD6.

Added to imprecisions over dating there are a few other things worthy of note. The cover and back of the fifth CD wrongly identify In a Summer Garden as having been played by the RPO; this is in fact the 1936 LPO. The final two LP sleeve fronts state that the orchestra is the RPO but as the flip-sides makes clear that’s not so. It’s totally wrong for CD6 which is the pre-war LPO and only half right for the last disc as it’s the LPO again that accompanies in the Delius songs.

Omissions also strikes me as worth noting. The selection policy in this box has been to reproduce, to a large degree, those in the earlier box and add selected examples of his LPO recordings. As is well-known Beecham returned to much of this repertoire and left two or sometimes three different recordings of a piece over the three decades from 1927 to 1957. His earliest Delius comes from December 1927 when he recorded The Walk to the Paradise Garden and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring with the (old) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the band that has sometimes been called the Orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society. Summer Night on the River followed the following year, though his attempt at Brigg Fair with the LSO failed for some reason and wasn’t released and was only successfully achieved later in 1928. These mere details simply show that it might have been possible to construct a rather more Complete Delius box with the inevitable corollary that it would have involved more discs and that Warner will not own the rights to Beecham’s Delius recordings on Sony. Still, Warner’s Charles Munch box contained 13 CDs and there were two recordings of the Symphonie fantastique, two of Honegger’s Fourth Symphony, two Ravel Pavanes and two of the Concerto for the Left Hand. All the 13 CDs in this Munch box were newly remastered in 2018 by Art & Son. Perhaps the near ubiquity of these Delius recordings militates against that kind of approach.

As for this Beecham box, to recap, we have pre-war LPO recordings of Appalachia, Eventyr, the four excerpts of incidental music to Hassan, In a Summer Garden, the two Koanga extracts and Paris. Four of the Songs are LPO-accompanied, five are with Beecham at the piano. The post-war RPO monos are the two Concertos, Dance Rhapsody No.1, Mass of Life, Prelude to Part II, Paa Vidderne, Sea Drift, Song of the High Hills and A Village Romeo and Juliet.

All the stereo items come from RPO sessions in 1956-57 and are Brigg Fair, Dance Rhapsody No.2, Fennimore and Gerda’s Intermezzo, Florida Suite, Irmelin’s Prelude, Marche Caprice, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, Over the Hills and Far Away, Sleigh Ride, Song Before Sunrise, Songs of Sunset, Summer Evening and Summer Night on the River.

Companies such as BBC Legends, Beulah, Naxos, Dutton, Somm, Pristine Audio, Music and Arts and St Laurent Studio have either restored many of the items missing from this box or have presented live or previously unpublished items. Sony Classical’s four CD box, which I have thus far not mentioned (see review), offers a great corpus of RPO recordings from 1949 to 1956 which includes the complete A Mass of Life and a Beecham talk.

Lyndon Jenkins’ fine four-page booklet notes have been reprinted in full except for the final paragraph which relates to the other composers in that earlier English Music box and which has duly been excised. It’s been translated into French and German, as was the case before.

The best way to hear Beecham’s Delius in as much depth as is reasonable and at a decent price (Presto are offering it on a substantial discount this month) is to acquire this latest box and add the Sony and selectively acquire supplementary live or previously unpublished examples. If you already have a swathe of it, then I’m afraid the dilemma is yours.

Jonathan Woolf


Over the Hills and Far Away [12:57]
Sleigh Ride [5:30]
Brigg Fair [15:42]
Florida Suite [35:13]
Marche Caprice [4:00]
rec. 1956-57

Dance Rhapsody No. 2 [7:40]
Summer Evening [6:22]
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring [7:04]
Summer Night on the River [6:37]
A Song before Sunrise [6:07]
Fennimore and Gerda - Intermezzo [5:11]
Irmelin Prelude [5:03]
Songs of Sunset [29:25]
rec. 1956-57

Dance Rhapsody No. 1 [12:10]
Violin Concerto [23:24]
Piano Concerto [17:04]
Paa Vidderne (On the Heights) [12:19]
A Mass of Life: Prelude to Part II [4:32]
rec. 1946-52

A Village Romeo and Juliet [63:25]

A Village Romeo and Juliet – concluded [38:05]
rec. 1948
Sea Drift [23:01]
rec. 1951
In a Summer Garden [13:56]
rec. 1936

Hassan; incidental music [13:41]
Koanga; La Calainda [3:37]: Final scene [8:18]
Appalachia [37:54]
Eventyr (Once upon a Time) [15:45]
rec. 1934-38

The Song of the High Hills [24:30]
Paris – The Song of great city [22:13]
Songs: I-Brasil [2:48]: Klein Venevil [1:54]: The Violet [1:52]: Whither [2:46] (orchestrated by Beecham)
Cradle Song [2:14]: Irmelin Rose [3:46]: The Nightingale [2:03]: Twilight Fancies [4:17]: Le Ciel est par-dessus le toit [2:32]
rec. 1929-46

Songs of Sunset: John Cameron (baritone): Maureen Forester (contralto); Beecham Choral Society
Dance Rhapsody No.1: David McCallum (violin)
Violin Concerto: Jean Pougnet (violin)
Piano Concerto: Betty Humby Beecham (piano)
A Village Romeo and Juliet: Dennis Dowling, baritone (Manz): Frederick Sharp, baritone (Marti): Margaret Ritchie, soprano (Sali - as a child): René Soames, tenor (Sali): Dorothy Bond, soprano (Vreli - as a child): Lorely Dyer, soprano (Vreli): Gordon Clinton, baritone (The Dark Fiddler): Donald Munro, baritone (First Peasant/Merry-go-Round Man): Marjorie Avis, soprano (First Woman, Wheel-of-Fortune Woman): Gwladys Garside, mezzo-soprano (Second Woman/Third Woman/Cheap Jewellery Woman/The Wild Girl): Lloyd Strauss-Smith, tenor (Showman/The Poor Horn-Player): Marion Davies, soprano (The Slim Girl): Philip Hattey, bass-baritone (The Hunch-Backed Bass-Fiddler) (A Village Romeo and Juliet)
Sea Drift: Gordon Clinton (baritone): Chorus
Hassan; London Select Choir (wordless chorus)/Jan van der Grucht (tenor) and Royal Opera Chorus (Closing Scene)
Koanga: London Select Choir (Final Scene)
Appalachia: BBC Chorus
The Song of the High Hills: Freda Hart (soprano): Leslie Jones (tenor): Luton Choral Society
Songs: Dora Labette (soprano): Thomas Beecham (conductor or piano)



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