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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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Frederick DELIUS (1862 -1934)
On Craig Dhu (1907) [4.19]
Ave Maria (1885-87) [2.17]
Durch den Wald (1885-87) [2.42]
An den Sonnenschein (1885-87) [1.07]
Frülingsanbruch (1885-87) [1.21]
Her ute skal gildet staa (1891) [2.18]
Sonnenscheinlied (1885-87) [0.50]
Two Unacccompanied Part-songs: To Be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water (1917) [5.01]
The Splendour falls on Castle Walls (1923) [3.33]
Midsummer Song (1908) [2.18]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
This Worldes Joie (1922) [7.02]
Five Greek Folksongs (1942) [12.41]
Of a Rose I Sing a Song (1920)
I Sing of a Maiden that Is Makeless (1923) [5.12]
Mater Ora Filium (1921) [13.00]
George Parris (director)
The Carice Singers
rec. St Michael and All Angels Church, Summertown, Oxford, 2016
NAXOS 8.573695 [71.40]

Superb.

Unfortunately, reviewers are not permitted to write just a single word in their comments, but much of what follows is a list of excellences about a CD all the more valuable because the repertoire is not as familiar as it ought to be.

To programme the Delius and Bax together has more wisdom than might appear from an apparently random conjunction of two composers who happened to be British but were born two decades apart, one with leanings towards the European traditions, the other drawn very much to the west of Ireland, not in the folk sense of a Seán Ó Riada, but in a certain ruggedness of tone and expression.

If we were to take this CD, it might be easy to generalise by saying that on first hearing, the Delius pieces are the more instantly appealing, the Bax more weighty and ultimately more rewarding. But that might be over-simple. The earlier works of Delius do lean backwards to the sound worlds of Schumann, Mendelssohn and Grieg, but later pieces, such as On Craig Dhu, are distinctive and extraordinarily well-crafted – originally intended for the Liverpool Festival Chorus, On Craig Dhu benefits in the new performance from the precision of a smaller, professional group, from the gentle waves of the opening to the broadening offered by the introduction of lower voices. If Delius wrote a more beautiful piece, in any medium, than this, I cannot think of it. The Carice Singers give full measure to its gentle undulations.

Also very impressive is Midsummer Song from 1908, despite its very short span – the hints of pastoral joy fade into a sense of the passing of life. The two part-songs To Be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water have their share of nonsense words. (What English collection is complete without a few la-las, to say nothing of a heigh-ho, and – absent here – a hey nonny-no?) The solo work by James Beddoe, a member of the Singers, impresses. The Splendour falls on Castle Walls was Delius’ last part-song, and the use of wordless echoes reflects wonderfully the internal rhymes used by Tennyson, and the final repetitions of ‘dying’ are moving indeed.

The strength of this recording is revealed with clarity in the demanding pieces by Bax. Unlike some critics, I was rather disappointed by what seemed to me slightly stiff performances in James O’Donnell’s recording – with the Westminster Cathedral Choir – of I Sing of a Maiden that Is Makeless and This Worldes Joie (coupled with pieces by Finzi and Ireland, Hyperion CDA68167), but had no reservations here about the meditative (but slightly slower) performances here. The gains from a fully professional and adult choir outweigh any preference for the boy treble voice. The Five Greek Folksongs (in English) are varied and particularly attractive, enhanced by the bell-like voices of Caroline Halls and Elspeth Piggott in The Bridesmaid’s Song.

I could continue with superlatives, but will add only that recording quality is very good and notes are useful. A special thank-you to Naxos for printing texts and translations in the booklet as well as making them available online. Too often in recent years, texts have been available online only, which detracts from the pleasure of the recording, and run-off prints do not fit in jewel-cases.

Michael Wilkinson
 
Previous reviews: Rob Barnett (Recording of the Month) ~ John France

 

 




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