Delius: Favourite Orchestral Works (CD review)

John Cameron, baritone; Maureen Forrester, contralto; Sir Thomas Beecham, Beecham Choral Society, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 50999 0 94653 2 9 (2-disc set).

There is no mistaking the music of Frederick Delius (1862-1934). He was an English pastoral impressionist who created bucolic images of quiet moods and lingering beauty. His works persist in the mind long after one hears them. True, many of his melodies can sound alike, but, then, one can say much the same of the music of Mozart or Haydn or Vivaldi or any other great composer. Listening to Delius is like floating gently down a stream in springtime, with nowhere special to go and nothing more to do than enjoy the ride. Delius's music meanders peacefully to and fro, with no intent on getting anywhere at any particular time. Lazy music? Certainly not. Let's say it's music for a lazy day, but by no means lazy in construction or execution.

At the turn of the twentieth century, hardly anybody had heard of Delius. Then British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) came to his rescue, seeing in the music of the neglected composer a source of unusual distinction and romance. Over the course of the next fifty-odd years, Beecham would champion Delius to a degree unprecedented in the musical world. When Beecham died in 1961, some people worried that Delius's music might die with him, but that hasn't been the case. This 2011 reissue from EMI of Favourite Orchestral Works, along with continued releases from Chandos, Naxos, Decca, ASV, Dutton, Unicorn, EMI, and others, demonstrates that the public still demands to hear Delius's material. It's just that no other conductor quite understands the music as well as Beecham did. The present two-disc set offers Beecham's stereo Delius recordings, and they make a pretty good case for the composer's worth.

The titles of the pieces say it all: "Over the Hills and Far Away," "On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring," "Summer Night on the River," "A Song Before Sunrise," "Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody," "Florida Suite," "Summer Evening," "Marche-Caprice," "Dance Rhapsody No. 2," "Fennimore and Gerda--Intermezzo," "Irmelin Prelude." Even "Sleigh Ride," which sounds as though it's going to be a fast and exciting romp, turns into a placid ramble. The second disc ends with "Songs of Sunset," eight lovely vocal/choral/orchestra tracks with baritone John Cameron, contralto Maureen Forrester, and the Beecham Choral Society teaming with Beecham and his Royal Philharmonic to conclude the program in high style.

Of the many Delius recordings on the market, it is still those of Beecham that reign supreme. He imparts to the music a perfect magic, making every performance sparkle, helping the music to convey all the delicate, tranquil, sometimes vivacious atmosphere the composer intended and more.

The 1956-57 recordings, the last of many Delius recordings Beecham made in his lifetime, these in stereo, hold up nicely, continuing to impart a transparency that shames many of today's digital efforts. While this is not to say they couldn't sometimes benefit from a greater weight and range, they do sound better than they have any right to sound. The folks at EMI have released all of the recordings in the set before in various single and double-CD editions, but I believe this is the first time the company has put all of them together. At a very low price, the set makes a terrific way to start a Delius collection if one hasn't already begun one.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa