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DELIUS Song of the High Hills

Concert Review by Marion M Scott

The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, USA, Monday, April 19, 1920

English Notes

By The Christian Science Monitor special music correspondent

LONDON, England – There have been many fine concerts in London this winter, but none so impressive as that given by the Royal Philharmonic Society at Queen’s Hall on February 26. It was an evening spent upon the heights of music. Though but one thing, "The Song of the High Hills" by Delius, was connected in name with the mountains, in actuality all the works given were so lofty, illumined by such exalted inspiration, that the entire program loomed mountain-like and grand to the eyes of imagination. Wagner’s Prelude to "Parsifal," Bach’s 8-part motet for double chorus, "Sing ye to the Lord," and Beethoven’s choral symphony – these are among the mightiest things in music, and it was wonderful to have them all in one evening with, as a fourth event, the first performance of Delius’ "Song of the High Hills." Add to these attractions that Albert Coates was the conductor, and that the recently founded Philharmonic Choir made its debut. The public would have been dull indeed not to support such a concert, but the success far surpassed all expectation. More than a week before the date, every ticket was sold, and when the evening came, the huge audience sat spellbound for more than three hours, lost to all sense of time save those glorious rhythms that beat through the music.

The "Parsifal" prelude under Coates was everything it should be: dignified, devotional, strong; with every note and tint of tone color so set in relation to the rest that the prelude as a perfect whole stood revealed.

For the Bach motet, Kennedy Scott (conductor of the Philharmonic Choir) took over the baton. It was only fitting that the man who in a few months has shaped and trained this choir from raw material into one which can hold its own creditably with the famous north country folk. Should have the honor of heading its first appearance in public. It is true the balance between the voices could be improved; the men are relatively weak, and the contraltos hardly heavy enough in tone; but the intelligence, admirable technique and enthusiasm of the choir place its work on a high level, and it promises to be worthy the prestige of a Royal Philharmonic Society. A remarkably good performance of the motet was secured, the florid passages in particular coming out with ease, perfect unanimity and brilliance.

Delius is at his best when handling large themes, and the freer the form, the more interesting and emotional does his music become. The violin concerto and double concerto – both so recently heard in London – contain long patches of monotony, and impress one as lacking in purpose, but in "The Song of the High Hills" – which is practically a tone poem scored for orchestra and voices without words – Delius has returned to that fervor of beauty he followed in his "Appalachia." With this difference – that while "Appalachia" paints the forest and waters of America, "The Song of the High Hills" conveys the impression made upon the composer by a still summer night in the mountains of Norway. "I have tried," he says, "to express the joy and exhilaration one feels in the mountains, and also the loneliness and melancholy of the high solitudes, and the grandeur of the wide, far distances. The human voices represent man in nature – an episode which becomes fainter and then disappears altogether."

The net result is a most beautiful work in which Delius’ good qualities are at their maximum, and his mannerisms at their minimum.

To the former category belong the lovely first entry of the voices, stealing into the midst of the score, and the wonderful compelling choral climax: to the latter category belong his judicious and – (for him) – unusual restraint in the matter of sequences. Perhaps this is because "The Song of the High Hills" (composed in 1911), is an earlier work than the violin concerto, in which the sequences are constantly pushed beyond the limits of interest and become tautological.

When the Royal Philharmonic Society plays Beethoven’s ninth symphony, there is a sense of appropriateness, almost of proprietorship – for the society commissioned the work from him, nearly 100 years ago; and Sir George Smart (the then conductor), travelled to Vienna to secure Beethoven’s own tempi. At the present concert Coates interpreted the symphony in a manner magnificently true to its intention, even if the traditional tempi were not always followed. Orchestra, chorus and soloists cooperated splendidly under this superb conductor, and made the performance memorable indeed. The first movement with its rugged force, and the scherzo with its tremendous rhythms could not have been finer. In comparison, the reading of the slow movement was less convincing, even though one dwells long in thought upon the perfect beauty of the phrasing.

The section which ushers in the "Ode to Joy" was wonderfully given. When the great tune first appeared in its entirety, it was played by the cellos and basses in a marvelous unison pianissimo, such as can seldom have been achieved, and which thrilled one to the heart by its beauty. From there onward to the end of the symphony, the music was a surge of joy – Milton’s great line, "And joy shall overtake us as a flood," seemed the only fitting comment, and the concert closed upon that thought.

By Marion M Scott

The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, USA, Monday, April 19, 1920

This article appears here with the kind permission of Pamela Blevins



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