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Delius: Piano Concerto, Paris / Shelley, Davis, Royal Scottish NO

Release Date: 10/30/2012 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10742   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frederick Delius
Performer:  Howard Shelley
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

An enchanting addition to the Delius discography.

Straight to one of my favourite Delius works – Paris; and in Chandos’s brilliant finery, how glorious it sounds. Initially, I was taken aback by what I felt was an altogether too brisk, too business-like view that Davis’s new recording of this Beecham revised and edited version presented. However, on repeated hearings I began to warm to its energy, colour, warmth and opulence. By the way, the album notes give no explanation of the whys and wherefores of Beecham’s revision.
Davis’s reading on this CD lasts for just 18:43. Compare this perceived brevity with some established recordings: Mackerras’s 1991 EMI Classics recording takes 21:49; Del
Read more Mar’s 1990 Unicorn-Kanchana (DKP(CD)9108) comes in at 25:38 (too slow for some but for me completely captivating) and even Beecham’s own celebrated vital and moving 1934 recording clocks up 22:07. I have still to listen to Andrew Davis’s earlier recording of Paris now on Warner Apex which lasts 22:28.
Delius’s vision vividly conjures up: hedonistic pleasures under garish lights, grisettes and their partners of the night dancing in gay abandonment, so much joy to be crowded in before dawn’s reality breaks through; all these high spirits contrasted with tender romantic moments in quiet places. Davis’s opening evocation impresses, deep down in the orchestra, quiet as evening falls before a thousand lights twinkle and the City noisily awakens to pleasure. Colour and orchestral transparency and detail impress too in Davis’s reading and the ‘night-life’ music is joyous and unbridled enough but I miss the feeling of greater abandon that Del Mar brings to his reading, especially to that gorgeously ‘vulgar’ dance hall tune. I liked, too, Del Mar’s treatment of that passage that seems to intimate the transience of life and love, as does so much of Delius’s music. Del Mar suggests, perhaps in a quiet avenue away, momentarily, from all the hedonism, that an infinite sadness is being experienced, an intense loneliness and, perhaps, aching recollections of love lost (18:50). For me, Davis does not reach this intensity.
I should add that Mackerras scores highly too, a most satisfying Paris and one that I would not like to be without – and also included in the EMI Eminence edition that’s in my collection, the Violin and Cello Concertos with Tasmin Little and Raphael Wallfisch respectively.
Delius’s piano concerto was written in the grand Late-Romantic tradition and its lyricism is greatly influenced by Grieg (1843-1907) who had befriended the young Delius. Its more bravura passages owe something to Liszt. The rival recording of the three-movement version of the Concerto is the 2005 Hyperion recording with Piers Lane and the Ulster Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd Jones that takes just short of 29:00. On balance, I rather favour Davis’s new more romantic, more deeply felt recording.
Delius had completed the score of a one-movement Fantasy for piano and orchestra as early as 1897. Early sketches were written in Florida. This material was subsequently developed into the three-movement Piano Concerto that was premiered in Elberfeld on 24 October 1904, by Julius Buths, conducted by Hans Haym. Delius subsequently reverted to his original one-movement format, the form in which the Concerto is usually heard - after Delius, two years on from its 1904 premiere, removed its third movement later to incorporate some of its material, more effectively, in his Violin Concerto of 1916. More minor revisions, approved and applauded by Delius, came later, at the hand of its dedicatee, Theodor Szántó: a pupil of Busoni. The version we hear most often today is that edited by Sir Thomas Beecham.
In addition to Grieg’s lyrical influence, the first movement has a grand sweep with passion and defiance as well as tender romanticism. The customary Delian fingerprints are evident too in its pastoral dreaming. The Largo slow movement is deeply felt, its limpid beauty nicely realised by Howard Shelley and Davis. Again the composer’s familiar figures are recognisable: his individualistic dance rhythms and those distant horn calls and figures associated with those distant high vistas Delius loved so much. Grouchy lower strings launch the third movement that mixes bombast, reverie and tenderness.
Regarding rival versions of the one-movement version, there are two recommended recordings: the 1969 Decca recording (470 190-2) [22:10] with Jean-Rodolphe Kars and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson, and the 1990 Unicorn-Kanchana (DKP(CD)9108) [21:52] recording with Philip Fowke and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar, the same CD that has the version of Paris I favour – see the first paragraph above. I prefer the more dreamily romantic atmosphere of the Decca performance. Both recordings are very good and both soloists shine.
Delius’s English Rhapsody, Brigg Fair, is a set of variations on a Lincolnshire folk tune. As Andrew Burn remarks in his album notes, “Delius’s use of the term ‘Rhapsody’ might imply a loose musical structure; however, this is far from the case, for the work takes the form of a set of 17 clearly defined variations on the folksong, gathering momentum to reach a climax shortly before the end.”
It was on the fift’ of August
The weather fine and fair
Unto Brigg Fair did I repair
For love was I inclined.
Davis’s glowing reading of Delius’s lovely, hazy-summer, pastoral evocation is set on a Chandos sound-stage of wide perspectives. Davis spins together the variations, beautifully dovetailing them, silkily integrated them through diverse moods ranging from quiet serenity to the great central climax that is such a great unrestrained outpouring of pastoral joy.
The little-known Idylle de Printemps was never performed during Delius’s lifetime. It had to wait until 1995 before it was given its premiere by the Northern Philharmonia under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones. It has been recorded by Lloyd-Jones (Naxos 8.505077) and by Mark Elder on Hallé. An early work, it was composed in 1889 at Ville-d’Avray. The influence of Grieg is very clear. It is constructed around its endearing oboe theme. This is a charming little gem that ought to be far better known and in Davis’s reading, it enchants.
Containing much lesser-known music this is an enchanting addition to the Delius discography.
-- Ian Lace, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Brigg Fair - An English Rhapsody by Frederick Delius
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907; France 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow 
Length: 4 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano in C minor by Frederick Delius
Performer:  Howard Shelley (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1897/1906; France 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow 
Length: 18 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Idylle de Printemps by Frederick Delius
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1889; France 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow 
Length: 10 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Paris - Song of a Great City by Frederick Delius
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899; France 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, RSNO Centre, Glasgow 
Length: 3 Minutes 44 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody: Theme - Variations 1-6 -
Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody: Interlude - Variations 7-10 -
Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody: Variations 11-12 - Transition -
Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody: Variations 13-17 - Coda
Piano Concerto in C minor (original version): I. Allegro non troppo
Piano Concerto in C minor (original version): II. Largo
Piano Concerto in C minor (original version): III. Tempo primo
Idylle Printemps
Paris: The Song of a Great City: Adagio –
Paris: The Song of a Great City: Vivace – Adagio con espressione – Con grazia –
Paris: The Song of a Great City: Molto adagio – Allegretto grazioso – Tempo di marcia –
Paris: The Song of a Great City: Adagio molto – Vivace grazioso – Molto tranquillo – Tempo I

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