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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Orchestral music transcribed for two pianos - Volume 2
Paris - the Song of a Great City (1899) (arr. Julius Buths) [22.29]
Eventyr (Once Upon a Time) (1917) (arr. Benjamin Dale) [18.50]
Fantastic Dance (1934) (arr. Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson) [3.30]
Summer Night on the River (1911-12) (arr. Philip Heseltine) [5.27]
Song of the High Hills (1920) (arr. Percy Grainger) [29.17]
Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi (pianos)
rec. Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, 15-16 September 2011.
SOMM CD 0129 [79.35]

Let’s dispense with, at once, and not repeat the obvious comment that any piano reduction, however sensitive to the nuances and atmosphere of the original complex orchestral fabric, is going to lose so much - too much? - colour and character. This question/observation is especially pertinent to the two larger-scale compositions in this programme: Paris and Song of the High Hills

Considering the high quality of performances evident from Volume 1 of this series, and continued in this second volume, my comments are aimed more at the quality of the transcriptions.
 
I have very mixed feelings about the efficacy of the Paris transcription by Julius Buths (1851-1920) who championed Delius’s music in Germany. It has its strengths. The joyous nightclub episode is successful, the music letting rip brightly at 9.35. The dotted staccato chords give the impression of footsteps hurrying from one hedonistic pleasure to the next. There is some nice contrasting in the quieter melancholy sections where there is a sense of chill isolation and a weighty sad realisation about the futility of it all. On the other hand I thought the opening needed more poetry, more nuance. This is, after all designed to evoke that sense of evening turning to darkness and the City of Lights awakening. The ending, with the cold light of dawn beginning to show, was too heavily emphasised. 
Percy Grainger was one of Delius’s friends. His arrangement of The Song of the High Hills, is much more successful, as might be expected. He was no stranger to arrangements not only of his own but of Delius’s and other composers’ music. Delius lovers will remember Ken Russell’s magnificent film about the composer’s final years and the section where Percy Grainger visits the composer at his home at Grez-sur-Loing. There you see him and Delius’s amanuensis, Eric Fenby, playing this transcription. There are also memorable scenes of the ascent up the Norwegian mountains with Delius being carried on a chair supported on two poles by Grainger and a manservant, towards a cloud-shrouded summit. Then, miraculously the clouds shift to reveal a magical sunset. This sense of wonder is communicated in the mystical climax of The Song of the High Hills which employs a large orchestra and wordless chorus. I agree entirely with Martin Lee-Browne when he comments that this moment is “one of the most magical in all music”. Grainger captures the essence of this music: the grandeur of the high places, the elemental forces. The sheer ecstasy of that climax is well communicated.
 
Benjamin Dale’s Eventyr transcription is quite successful, too, in suggesting the scenic splendour of Norwegian mountains and lakes, rivers and forests, and a hostile environment worsened by nightmarish horrors amongst the trees: trolls, witches and giants.
 
Philip Heseltine’s transcription of Summer Night on the River retains that lovely languid Delian sensuality. It includes a very vivid evocation of dragonflies and other insects hovering and darting around water-lilies and amongst the willows. The brief lyrical Fantastic Dance was written shortly before Delius died and it is entirely suited to piano transcription. As Lee-Browne points out, it had a much better chance like this than in its original concert hall form.
 
A mostly successful clutch of Delius transcriptions especially Percy Grainger’s treatment of The Song of the High Hills.
 
Ian Lace
 

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