Composer: Frederick Delius
Performer: Olivia Robinson – soprano, Christopher Bowen – tenor, Andrew Rupp – baritone
Orchestra: BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Number of Discs: 1 SACD-R
Bit Depth: 64(2.8 MHz/1 Bit)
Number of channels: 5.0, 2.0
Size: 3.05 GB
Scan: yes (PDF)
BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis
Frederick Delius – Appalachia, The Song of the High Hills
Frederick Delius (29 January 1862 – 10 June 1934)
01. [Introduction I.] Molto moderato – Tranquillo – (03:48)
02. [Introduction II.] Poco più vivo ma moderato – (02:13)
03. [Theme.] Andante – (00:29)
04. [Variation I.] Un poco più – Moderato – (00:45)
05. [Variation II.] Più vivo – (01:00)
06. [Variation III.] Molto moderato – Poco più mosso – Lento – Moderato (molto ritmico) – (04:09)
07. [Variation IV.] Con moto – Un poco più tranquillo – (00:53)
08. [Variation V.] Giocoso. Allegro moderato – Meno mosso. Più tranquillo – (02:42)
09. [Variation VI.] Lento e molto tranquillo – Misterioso. Più mosso – Un poco meno – (04:10)
10. [Variation VII.] Andante con grazia – Calando – (01:38)
11. [Variation VIII.] Lento sostenuto e tranquillo – Un poco più – Tempo I – (02:50)
12. [Variation IX.] Allegro alla marcia – Adagio – (01:42)
13. [Variation X.] Marcia. Molto lento maestoso – (01:34)
14. [Song.] L’istesso tempo – Misterioso lento – Lento – Più mosso (07:52)
The Song of the High Hills:
15. In ruhigem fließendem Tempo – Tranquillo. Very quietly but not dragging – With vigour – Not too slow – Rather quicker – Slower. Maestoso (not hurried). With exultation – (09:27)
16. Very slow (The wide far distance – The great solitude) – Slow and solemnly – Very quietly – Slow and very legato – (11:45)
17. Tempo I – Più mosso ma tranquillo – With exultation (not hurried). Maestoso – Tempo I – Very slow (07:24)
recorded at All Saints’ Church (Tooting, London) in London, England, United Kingdom (2010-10-15 – 2010-10-16)
partial recording of Appalachia, RT ii/2 (2010-10-15 – 2010-10-16)
This release offers a pair of fairly early Delius works; they may not be instantly appealing to those making a start with this idiosyncratic English impressionist, but confirmed fans will love them. The roots of Frederick Delius’ Appalachia lay in his experiences as an orange plantation manager in Florida in the late 1880s, where he heard the singing of African-American laborers and, according to his own testimony, first began to think about becoming a composer. The work is subtitled “Variations on an Old Slave Song with Final Chorus for baritone, chorus, and orchestra,” and everything about it is intriguingly confused. Florida is not part of Appalachia. Nor is the Mississippi River delta, which Delius claimed was the inspiration for the work, but which he apparently never saw. To top it off, the “old slave song” is obscure; Delius, who had firsthand experience of African-American music, may indeed have heard it somewhere, but the text doesn’t appear anywhere in databases of spiritual texts, and apparently no one has discovered the source. The melody, uncharacteristically simple for a spiritual, is stated plainly after a two-part introduction, and then follows a set of variations of all possible shapes and sizes, culminating in a choral finale. The finale gives the advertised baritone soloist precious little to do; he gets to sing just a few bars after cooling his heels on-stage for half an hour. And it introduces the text of the song, which with its “sold down the river” images sounds a bit out of place in the mouths of a substantial English chorus. The BBC Symphony Chorus under Andrew Davis does its best with this, and in general the level of orchestral detail, the heart and soul of a Delius performance, is impressive here. The Song of the High Hills expands on the wordless chorus idea that is introduced in Appalachia, and technically it’s perhaps a more accomplished work. Appalachia, however, truly announced Delius as an original, and it’s the kind of piece you’ll either love or hate depending on your attitude toward the composer’s output in general. In any case, it’s not a terribly common work on CD, and Davis deserves thanks for its resurrection here.
After the deaths of two great interpreters of Delius – Sir Charles Mackerras and Richard Hickox – I often wondered how soon it would be before another sympathetic Delius exponent emerged. Clearly Sir Andrew Davis is just that. This is a magnificent, clear-edged recording of two challenging, problematic works, performed here with vibrancy and confidence. In the past it has always been the unconventional variation structure of Brigg Fair that has impressed me rather than the freer, more Strauss-inspired design of Appalachia. Yet here, the tempi, the lushness and balance of the orchestral timbres and the careful injection of character into the succession of 10 variations remind us of Delius’s white-hot creative fertility in 1902 and of Appalachia’s rightful place beside Delius’s two other great tone-poems, Paris and Das Lebenstanz. The role of the slave “song” is one of its most original features and it is hauntingly sung here; indeed, this and the other choral interjections make sense of that Damascene moment that the composer experienced in Florida and the desire thereupon to become a composer.
The much later, more complex Song of the High Hills (1915) is also handled with aplomb. The monumental outer sections have a purposeful sense of direction, while the spacious middle section, with wordless chorus, is not allowed to drag. Indeed, Davis’s diligent control of this extraordinary material makes for compelling listening. More please, Sir Andrew!
Both these major works are panoramic depictions of landscapes Delius loved: one, of the rolling rivers and great swamps of the American South, with glimpses too of the gaiety of the towns; the other, the lofty heights of the Norwegian mountains. And both augment their large orchestral forces with voices: in Appalachia, which is loosely structured as a set of ‘Variations on an Old Slave Song’, these represent black workers singing, at first in the distance and then close by; in The Song of the High Hills, the voices suggest a mystical affinity between man and nature.
Andrew Davis combines a sensitive feeling for tempo and shape with superfine detail of phrasing and balancing – perfectly supported by a recording which makes everything luminously clear within a spacious acoustic. The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays for its former chief conductor with precision and spirit, the solo voices make an excellent contribution, and the BBC Symphony Chorus achieves miracles of quiet singing and climactic exultation.
Both works have a distinguished history on disc, from Beecham’s pioneering accounts to Decca’s fine 1990s recording by Mackerras with Welsh National Opera forces. But I’ve heard nothing to beat these glorious new performances.