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Orchestral Works Volume 1
First Cuckoo*; Summer Night on the River*; Eventyr; Paris; excerpts from Koanga and Hassan

Beecham with London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic* orchestras, London Select Choir
Naxos Historical 8.110904 61'11"
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Having frequently heard Sir Thomas Beecham in his later years give inimitable accounts of Delius, and having known these performances on 78s & LPs, it is a pleasure to welcome their Naxos refurbishment for a fiver and a penny change - superb value in 2000. Delius believed no-one else could perform his music properly, and it was only bureaucratic muddle by the French customs authorities that prevented him hearing test pressings of these 1934 recordings made shortly before his death. I was brought up in the belief that there was some indefinable secret, which made other conductors' attempts a travesty.

These performances, heard again, certainly evoke feelings that Beecham did indeed bring something special to this music, which he championed until the end of his life. The two small pieces for orchestra date from 1927 and are played by the seasonal orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society. It is lovely to hear this first recording of the ever popular Cuckoo.

Beecham's funding and founding of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1932 created a major sensation, with standards hitherto unknown in Britain. Most of the performances here date from their early recordings together in 1934, produced by the young Walter Legge, with the finest players amongst London's free-lancers, including always Leon Goossens (oboe) and Paul Beard (violin soloist in the Hassan Serenade - Beard was the LPO leader till 1936, subsequently leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for very many years).

This CD is of far more than historical interest and it seems unfortunate that it seems to be narrowly aimed at older music-lovers. There is a useful history of the recordings themselves, provided by Lyndon Jenkins, Chairman of the Delius Society, but nothing about the music itself for newcomers to Delius. They could very well be advised to start right here with this CD. Readers of MotW can, of course, turn to the Delius Society pages for more background.

Since Naxos sees no need for programme notes, and even leaves the last of its meagre three pages half empty, why should I do their work for them? But I cannot resist one note about Eventyr (Once upon a time). At two points there are some slightly inhibited shouts, supplied by members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. We were a little shocked. Orchestral musicians required to shout! Whatever next?

The quality of the transfers (by David Lennick with Graham Newton) sounds excellent, with judicious noise reduction but retention of good string tone and Goossen's unique oboe timbre easily recognisable.

Collectors of state-of-the-art, up to the minute stereo CDs should all be advised to add some important historical performances to their collections. This could be a good choice to begin with, its pleasures going far beyond the nostalgic. They can become addictive!

But a final word. Do not pass by any opportunity to acquire a real collectors' item - the EMI World Records Retrospect LPs c.1975, a wonderful and (as I remember) inexpensive reissue with comprehensive notes and texts of the vocal works, of course, together with the bonus of Beecham's 225 page book Frederick Delius tucked into a special slot in the box. Mine is in mint condition, and I treasure it. Where does that leave the progress upon which we are all so proud to congratulate (or delude?) ourselves.


Peter Grahame Woolf



Peter Grahame Woolf

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