Saturday, 10 December 2011

Frederick Delius: A Delius Collection of Rare Historic Recordings

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
A Delius Collection of Rare Historic Recordings
Performers include Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Eugène Goossens, Constant Lambert, Isobel Baillie & Heddle Nash.
Full Track List at end of Review
Recorded: 1929-55
This CD presents an excellent range of rare historic recordings of Frederick Delius’ music played by a diverse range of conductors, orchestras and performers.  I hold my hand up and admit that I am not a big fan of ‘historical’ CDs, preferring something newly minted with near-perfect sound quality. However, I do recognise the importance of retaining earlier performances in the catalogue for reference purposes. And very often one of these ‘blasts for the past’ can hit the spot. Several pieces in this compilation meet this expectation.
The first thing to notice about this collection is that Sir Thomas Beecham is not represented. To be fair, many of that conductor’s recordings of Fred. Delius are easily available on Naxos, Somm and elsewhere. For example, there are at least half a dozen currently available recordings of Beecham conducting On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring. So it is good to explore other artists’  work which languishes in the archives.

There is a great diversity of music on this CD varying from such well-known numbers as La Calinda, A Song of Summer and the above mentioned First Cuckoo. But this is only part of the the programme. There are some relative rarities here too. For example the songs ‘The Violet’ and ‘Sweet Weevil’ with the soprano Joan Stuart and the pianist Gordon Watson are not a regular feature of CDs or recitals. Evlyn Howard-Jones who was Delius’s favourite interpreter of his Piano Concerto plays an excellent version of the rarely heard Three Preludes for piano. This recording is the oldest on this CD dating from 1929. Equally unusual is the Légende for violin and piano performed by by the Danish violinist Henry Holst accompanied by Gerald Moore in 1942. It was the first recording of this piece.
I am not too sure how satisfying Maggie Teyte’s rendition of ‘Indian Love Song’ or Isobel Baillie singing ‘Love’s Philosophy’ will be to modern ears. However, one has to allow for changes in style of singing English song and the limitations of the recordings. However I was impressed by Heddle Nash’s rendition of ‘To the Queen of my Heart’ dating from 1934. Anthony Pini and Wilfred Parry present an interesting version of the rarely heard ‘Caprice and Elegy’. This was another of Fenby’s collaborations with the composer and was written for the English cellist Beatrice Harrison. It is a work that is perhaps a little darker than the usual Delius fare.

The big orchestral pieces include a particularly beautiful version of The Walk to the Paradise Gardens with Eugene Goossens conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra dating from 1946. It is one of the best I have ever heard. Anthony Collins’ reading of On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is an old favourite: I guess it is the same version as used on the old Decca Eclipse LP. This was my first introduction to Delius and remains for me a definitive performance. The Hallé under Sir John Barbirolli give a landmark performance of A Song of Summer. This piece which was completed with the aid of Eric Fenby was inspired by memories of the Yorkshire coast. It is a near-perfect account of this impressionistic work. Equally attractive are the Two Aquarelles which are deliciously sensuous arrangements for string orchestra of the part-songs ‘To be sung of a summer night’.  The first, in particular, is one of the most moving pieces that the composer wrote.
The opening piece on this CD is Constant Lambert and the Hallé Orchestra with a wartime recording of La Calinda. It is a pleasure and a joy to hear.
Finally I was not convinced by Sidney Beer’s reading of the Irmelin Prelude with the National Symphony Orchestra. For me it is a little to sharply focussed and hard-edged.

The presentation of this CD is excellent, the liner notes are first-rate and the quality of the sound, bearing in mind the limitations of historical recordings is very good indeed.
This is an outstanding disc that will be an important and essential addition to all Delius cognoscenti. Whatever’s one’s thoughts are about ‘historical recordings’ this is a valuable document reflecting a number of fine artists. 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Full Track List
La Calinda [3:29]
Hallé Orchestra/Constant Lambert
Recorded 30 July 1941: HMV C3273

Irmelin Prelude [5:03]
National Symphony Orchestra/Sidney Beer
8 June 1944: Decca K1834

Caprice & Elegy [6:43]
Anthony Pini, cello - Wilfrid Parry, piano
1955: Argo RG47

Air and Dance [4:33]
The Boyd Neel String Orchestra
20 October 1938: Decca X147

The Violet [2:32]
Joan Stuart, soprano - Gordon Watson, piano
1955: Argo RG46

Sweet Venevil [2:54]
Joan Stuart, soprano - Gordon Watson, piano
1955: Argo RG46

On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring [6:18]
London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins
23 & 25 February 1953: Decca LXT2788

Indian Love Song [3:12]
Maggie Teyte, soprano - Rita Mackay, piano
Decca LXT6126

To the Queen of my Heart [3:07]
Heddle Nash, tenor - Gerald Moore, piano
7 December 1934: Columbia SDX7

Love's philosophy [1:48]
Isobel Baillie, soprano - Gerald Moore, piano
31 May 1945: Columbia DB2178

Two Aquarelles (arr. Fenby) [3:49]
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
1 April 1948: HMV C3864

Three Preludes for piano [3:34]
Evlyn Howard-Jones, piano
4 April 1929: Columbia 5444

The Walk to the Paradise Garden [9:23]
[A Village Romeo and Juliet (arr. Beecham)]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Eugène Goossens
14 February 1946: RCA Victor 11-9493

Légende for violin & piano [8:40]
Henry Holst, violin - Gerald Moore, piano
7 August 1942: Columbia DX1094

A Song of Summer [11:02]
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
2 February 1950: HMV DB9609/70 

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