An English Rhapsody.
Idylle de printemps. Paris:
A Nocturne (The Song of a Great City)
Andrew Davis, cond; Howard Shelley (pn); Royal Scottish Natl O
CHANDOS 10742 (75:35)
The first two of Andrew Davis’s releases of Frederick Delius on Chandos—three if one includes the 18-year old recording for Teldec—have shown this conductor to be a persuasive exponent of the composer’s music. Now the excellence of this disc should convince even skeptics that Davis belongs on a select list of Delius interpreters. The CD—not an SACD as were the two previous—documents three early works in which the composer is trying on different styles in the quest to find his own voice, and a fourth where he triumphantly displays his maturity.
It is in the fourth piece, the 1907
, that the 45-year old composer achieves his unique synthesis of German late-Romanticism and French Impressionism with the yearning melancholy of British folk music, a fruitful mixture which was to serve him well for the remainder of his creative life. The set of 17 variations on the folk song of the same name was written at the instigation of Delius’s friend Percy Grainger, who had collected the tune in Lincolnshire; the Australian composer’s own harmonization appears in tribute at the end of the work. Aided greatly by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra—which has proven adept at Debussy and Roussel in recent outings on this label—Davis evokes the English pastoral summertime with a shimmering lightness and subtlety of balance, color, and rhythm that is worthy of Delius’s great champion Thomas Beecham.
The other major item on this disc is Delius’s Grieg-inspired Piano Concerto in its 1904 three-movement version. Since Beecham’s recording with his wife in 1946, the concerto has appeared in the 1907 single-movement version made under the influence of pianist-friend Theodor Szántó who re-wrote the piano part to his own preferences. It has always seemed the poor step-child to Delius’s other concertos and has not gained a large audience. Piers Lane and David Lloyd-Jones (Hyperion) brought the 1904 version of the concerto to our attention in their 2006 recording. They make a good case that Delius’s revisions were, if not ill-advised, certainly not an unalloyed improvement. While it is hard to argue that the third movement didn’t need some tightening, its complete elimination in the last version seems extreme—Delius did salvage a lovely theme for use in his Violin Concerto—and Szántó’s overtly virtuosic writing often seems at odds with Delius’s accompaniment. Despite the digressions of the
Maestoso con moto moderato
, this version is preferable in retrospect, and this new performance with the generally more lyric and poetic Howard Shelley and Davis’s marginally dreamier tempos brings the work more convincingly into the Delius mainstream.
The disc is filled out with two even earlier works of merit: the 1899
Idylle de printemps
Paris: A Nocturne (The Song of a Great City)
of 10 years later. The first work, much influenced again by Grieg, has such pastoral charm that it is hard to fathom why it had to wait until 1995 to be heard. David Lloyd-Jones was the conductor for that premiere and he recorded it for Naxos at the same time. Fine as that recording is, Davis’s more relaxed and slightly pensive version is the more touchingly done. His
is conversely the quickest of the versions available by some margin, yet it loses only a little in atmosphere compared to his earlier Teldec recording and benefits from the youthful vigor that he imparts to Delius’s paean to the Bohemian nightlife of that city.
Performance and presentation are in every way first-class, as can be expected from Chandos. The sound is warm and slightly diffuse, but that is in keeping with the music. This is a significant addition to the Delius catalog.
Ronald E. Grames