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Frederick Delius: English Masterworks

Delius / Aarhus Sym Orch / Reuter / Holten
Release Date: 05/08/2012 
Label:  Danacord   Catalog #: 721   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frederick Delius
Performer:  Henriette Bonde-Hansen
Conductor:  Bo Holten
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DELIUS Songs of Sunset 1. 3 Songs 2. North Country Sketches. A Late Lark 2 Bo Holten, cond; 1,2 Henriette Bonde-Hansen (sop); 1 Johan Reuter (bar); Aarhus SO; 1 Aarhus Cathedral Ch; 1 Aarhus SO Ch Read more class="BULLET12"> • DANACORD DACOCD 721 (74:27)

The title of this Delius collection, English Masterworks , makes more sense if you know Bo Holten’s two previous Delius CDs on Danacord, Danish Masterworks and Norwegian Masterworks . The composer loved Scandinavia, wrote several works evocative of the Nordic countries, and set numerous Danish and Norwegian texts to music. But the expatriate Delius, who lived most of his adult life in France, remained English; this program combines one piece that is explicitly English in character, North Country Sketches , with several vocal works to words by English poets. One wonders why Holten didn’t include Brigg Fair , which is based on an English folk song, but he seems to have wanted to avoid Delius’s best-known music. It would make perfect sense for Danacord to follow this CD with a fourth, American Masterpieces—Appalachia and the Florida Suite , perhaps—devoted to works that reflect his time and experiences in this country.

The one orchestral piece here, North Country Sketches , is in many ways the most effective performance on the disc. While not as voluptuous as Vernon Handley’s recording on Chandos, Holten’s reading retains much of the expressiveness of the classic versions by Beecham and Groves. The first two movements, “Autumn (The Wind Soughs in the Trees)” and “Winter Landscape,” make you want to put on a jacket. The fourth and final movement, “The March of Spring (Woodlands, Meadows and Silent Moors),” is appropriately vigorous.

The Three English Songs of 1891 are settings of Shelley. Two of them were memorably recorded in 1934 by tenor Heddle Nash with Gerald Moore for the Delius Society, and are available in EMI’s omnibus Delius Anniversary Edition of 18 CDs. They’re hard to recognize in Holten’s orchestrations, with the vocal line given to soprano Henriette Bonde-Hansen; the texts certainly suggest a male singer. But the more significant matter is the way Holten alters the songs’ character. He describes his conception of the songs in the notes to the CD: “The two major influences are, almost inevitably, Wagner and Grieg, and Delius somehow makes of them perfect bedfellows. The refined Griegian harmony goes hand in hand with a Lohengrin -like articulation of his quite voluptuous settings of these Shelley poems.” Voluptuous, indeed: Holten’s and Bonde-Hansen’s readings of the two songs are half again as long as Nash’s, but this voluptuousness replaces the originals’ ardor, and the music loses much of its effect in the exchange.

The Songs of Sunset for mezzo-soprano, baritone, mixed chorus, and orchestra is one of the great choral-orchestral works Delius wrote in the first decade of the 20th century when he was at the height of his powers, along with Appalachia, Sea Drift , and A Mass of Life . Settings of poems by Ernest Dowson, the eight movements are a moving expression of the sorrows, and finally, acceptance, of parting and loss. (Dowson, incidentally, had a gift for creating memorable phrases; the last poem here is the source of “days of wine and roses,” and another poem set by Delius, Cynara , introduces the phrase “gone with the wind.”) Here Holten falls short of the achievement of Beecham and Groves, the latter with ideal soloists in Janet Baker and John Shirley-Quirk; their dark vocal colors are perfect for this music. Holten’s chorus doesn’t sound sufficiently full in Delius’s multipart writing, either; we hear mostly the sopranos, where it would be better to be able to discern more of the rich inner voices. The English diction is generally quite good, although Bonde-Hansen and particularly baritone Johan Reuter do produce some odd vowel sounds.

Finally, A Late Lark is Delius’s moving expression of equanimity in the face of his failing health and impending death. Its exquisiteness is better rendered by tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson with none other than Eric Fenby, who helped Delius complete the score in 1929, in a long-unavailable Unicorn-Kanchana set titled The Fenby Legacy . In any case, the score was written for tenor, and seems more effective that way; I don’t understand why Holten chose to use a soprano here and in the Shelley songs. However, the only other currently available version is also by a soprano, Susan Gritton, on Chandos; I haven’t heard it, but Henry Fogel liked it well enough in Fanfare 34:1.

This collection is not as consistently strong as the Danish or Norwegian CDs, but contains one first-rate performance plus the rare recording of A Late Lark , which alone is practically worth the price of the disc, soprano or no. Recommended to committed Delians.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Songs of Sunset by Frederick Delius
Conductor:  Bo Holten
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1907; France 
Length: 30 Minutes 55 Secs. 
English Songs (3), for voice & piano, RT v/12 by Frederick Delius
Performer:  Henriette Bonde-Hansen ()
Conductor:  Bo Holten
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891 
Length: 10 Minutes 9 Secs. 
North Country Sketches by Frederick Delius
Conductor:  Bo Holten
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913-1914; France 
Length: 26 Minutes 29 Secs. 
A Late Lark by Frederick Delius
Performer:  Henriette Bonde-Hansen ()
Conductor:  Bo Holten
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1929 
Length: 5 Minutes 23 Secs. 

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