> DELIUS British Music Collection 4703752 [TB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Sea Drift

John Shirley-Quirk (baritone)
London Symphony Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Hickox
Rec April 1980, Kingsway Hall, London
Paris: The Song of a Great City
In a Summer Garden
A Song of Summer
Summer Night on the River
The Walk to the Paradise Garden

London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins
Rec February & October 1953, Kingsway Hall, London
Cello Sonata

Julian Lloyd Webber (cello); Bengt Forsberg (piano)
Rec September 1996, Abbey Road Studios, London
A Song of the Hgh Hills

Rebecca Evans (soprano); Peter Hoare (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of Welsh National Opera/Sir Charles Mackerras
Rec April 1993, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Intermezzo and Serenade: Hassan
A Song before Sunrise
Intermezzo; Fennimore and Gerda
Air and Dance
La Calinda (Koanga)

Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
Rec January 1977, St John's, Smith Square, London
DECCA 470 375 2 [2CDs: 151.56]

budget price

Decca's continuing series 'The British Music Collection' is bringing back a whole host of interesting recordings and repertoire to the catalogue. This double CD set of Delius features some of the most notable conductors of the post-Beecham era, in Mackerras, Hickox and Marriner, while also including a series of performances by Sir Thomas's distinguished contemporary Anthony Collins.

Collins created an enviable reputation as a conductor of Delius and Sibelius, and from these performances it is easy to understand why. For the music has a natural phrasing and shaping, and a longer-term vision too. Paris, for example, is notoriously difficult to bring off, but Collins has the measure of the music. His ability to conjure magical colours from quasi-impressionist textures is also notable during the mostly quiet music of In a Summer Garden, a nature-piece with a surprisingly long time span of some fifteen minutes.

If all this is the good news, now for the not-so-good. These recordings all date from 1953, and while they are adequate they do reflect their vintage. Part of Delius's language in orchestral music is about colour and lustre of sound, so the intrepid collector should beware. The sound is anaemic, with little or no richness and bloom during climaxes.

There are no such problems among the remainder of the collection, although it needs to be said that the Collins performances do make a substantial portion of the whole, practically half of it, in fact. There is also a quite splendid Sea Drift from Richard Hickox, with John Shirley-Quirk his excellent baritone soloist. But it is disappointing that there is no text in the booklet, particularly since so much of it is given over to dead space. This betrays a slack editorial hand.

Julian Lloyd Webber is an expert Delian, and his performance of the Cello Sonata gains also from his choice of pianist. Experienced as a lieder accompanist, Bengt Forsberg plays with the utmost sensitivity. On a larger scale is A Song of the High Hills, a major work dating from 1911, which is less well known than it deserves to be. As well as being musically imaginative, this score is also biographically important, in that it relates to Delius's lifelong obsession with the Norwegian landscape. The imagery of the mountain peaks can be both vigorous and poetically refined, and Mackerras captures these extremes with great vigour on the one hand, great sensitivity on the other. He is aided by the Welsh National Opera and Chorus, whose music director he was when this recording was made, Rebecca Evans and Peter Hoare are on excellent vocal form. The recording copes well with the wide dynamic range this music demands, save that climaxes sometimes sound a shade congested, the timpani lacking definition, for example.

The remainder of the collection is given over to orchestral miniatures conducted by Sir Neville Marriner with his Academy of St Martin in the Fields. These performances from 1977 are particularly well played and recorded, reflecting the particular achievements of their collaboration. The rhythms bounce perfectly in La Calinda, surely one of the composer's most appealing smaller works, and A Song before Sunrise has a radiant beauty.

This is a strange collection, since it contains some fine performances, but there remains an uneasy mixture of historical and modern recordings. Another disappointment (or rather frustration) is that Appalachia is not included. This is particularly so since the Decca archive contains two magnificent performances, conducted by Hickox and Mackerras, which were previously issued in couplings with items which are included here.

Terry Barfoot

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