Delius in Norway - Davis

Delius in Norway - Davis

Chandos  CHSA 5131

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Delius: Norwegian Bridal Procession (1889); Paa Vidderne (1890-92) (On the Mountains); Two Songs from the Norwegian (1889); Sleigh Ride (1889-90) (Winter Night); Folkeraadet (1897) (The People's Parliament); On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) (Introducing a Norwegian Folksong); Eventyr (1917) (Once upon a Time)

Ann Helen Moen, soprano
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis

Sir Andrew Davis and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra perform in this release which celebrates the relationship of Delius with his spiritual home, Norway. It features works inspired by the country’s landscape and culture, many bearing the influence of Delius’s great friend and mentor Edvard Grieg. Delius first performed Sleigh Ride on the piano to a close group of friends, including Grieg. Orchestrated later under the title Winter Night, it went on to become Delius’s most popular miniature. The Norwegian Suite was commissioned as incidental music to the satirical play Folkeraadet.

Delius’s clever use of the Norwegian national anthem throughout the score, however skilful, was seen as an insult to national sensibilities and uproar ensued, eventually forcing Delius to withdraw the music. Eventyr, translated as ‘Tales of Adventure’, evokes the spirit of Norwegian folk-tales. Delius applies some of his most imaginative orchestral strokes as he portrays a supernatural world of trolls, giants, demons, and pixies. Despite its brevity, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is one of Delius’s sublime achievements, a perfect translation of nature and mood into music. Norwegian soprano Ann-Helen Moen joins the orchestral forces in Two Songs from the Norwegian.

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - February 10, 2014

Delius seems to have been a cosmopolitan composer. Despite being born in Britain (and often referred to as an "English" composer), he wrote very little in the country of his birth. He has a strong claim to be considered an American composer; having written two American operas, each with a strong jazz influence, and music about Florida, where in his early years he managed an orange plantation. For most of his life, however, he lived in France. His wife was a Serbian, his early successes were in Germany, and he immersed himself in German literature and philosophy, which had much influence in his compositions. And he could also be called a Norwegian composer. Introduced to the country by a visit when he was nineteen, he was completely captivated by its scenery, people, literature, myths, folklore and language (in which he was fluent). Norway became his spiritual home.

The Bergen Symphony Orchestra players are ideal performers for this Chandos collection of music which Delius wrote in or about Norway, and Sir Andrew Davis is gaining a reputation as the next dedicated Delius exponent, following Beecham, Barbirolli, Meredith Davis, Richard Hickox and, of course, his amanuensis Eric Fenby. The 'Delius in Norway' programme includes several pieces which are rarely recorded or performed, as well as several "signature" pieces which have gained the status of "popular classics".

First on the menu is the Norwegian Bridal Procession. Transcribed by Delius in 1889 from No. 2 in 'Pictures of Norwegian Life' by his friend Grieg, this sturdy and happy march is given extra flavour of a rural wedding by use of a wooden piccolo, which is heard in the first few bars. A more substantial work, in fact a symphonic poem, is called after and inspired by Ibsen's poem 'Paa Vidderna' (On the Mountains). Dated 1888, this early work shows allegiance to Tchaikovsky, just as young Sibelius in Finland was influenced by the Russian master. Although seeming at times to be cut out of Tchaikovsky's first three symphonies (and with a Wagnerian melody near the end which bows a knee to Meistersingers), this is an attractive atmospheric walk in the countryside. The splendid brass choir of the BSO clearly express the boundless majestic views obtained from climbing high in the Fells, and Davis keeps up the impetus of this colourfully orchestrated work without it being overblown.

Norwegian lyric soprano Ann-Helen Moen relishes her allotted two Delius works, 'Two Songs from the Norwegian', orchestrated in 1908, numbers 3 and 7 from 'Seven Songs from the Norwegian' (1889-90). 'The Princess' features a high-born girl hearing a peasant-boy's horn calls. She is attracted to him, but knows that he is below her station, making her love hopeless. Excellent soft playing from the well-distanced solo horn, and Anne-Helen Moen sings with conviction, beautifully assisted by the luminous orchestration. 'The Bird's Story' has a pair of lovers walking on a sweet Spring morning; they are watched and overheard by a Sparrow which, after they leave, makes up a ballad on the lover's exchanges and passes it on to the other birds. Ibsen's poem is a charming and evocative story which allows Moen's warm voice to soar into the large acoustic of the Bergen Grieghallen. Near the end, divided violins and the whole woodwind chorus touchingly engage in a radiant outburst of birdsong.

'Sleigh Ride' (for piano in 1887, orchestrated in 1889) is one of the Delius "Lollypops" as Beecham used to call them. Originally called 'Winter Night', it gained its new name from Beecham's 1956 recording. Somewhat slower than Beecham's progress, Sir Andrew and the Bergen Symphony Orchestra players trot into the soft opening with sleigh-bells a-tinkling. Most of the piece is devoted to portraying a still, frozen landscape, which climaxes in brass-driven repetitions of the jog-tune. Here, the Bergeners sound a little heavy, whereas Beecham graduates his climaxes more subtly. Beecham also produces a more magical and gently nuanced picture of the starry night, which is breathtaking.

From 1897 and taking up nearly half the disc, 'Folkraadet' (People's Parliament) is quite a Delian rarity. Don't expect too much though, because this is not truly vintage Delius. A commission from a Norwegian playwright to supply incidental music for his melodrama lampooning Norwegian politics and Norwegian-Swedish relations produced a lengthy response from Delius. His accepting such a task shows the depth of Delius' knowledge of, and interest in, Norwegian Culture. Beecham and Fenby edited Delius' efforts into an orchestral suite, but still the interludes are timed at 5-7 minutes - a long time to sustain the overall theatrical purpose. The music is pleasant enough, but not really very distinctive - nor very characteristic of the composer in many parts. Perhaps it is best to listen as if this were abstract music. Since Delius tirelessly introduces the Norwegian National Anthem at every opportunity (almost making the work a set of variations on the anthem), the blustering nationalistic crescendos tend to nullify the more subtle and well-orchestrated sections. This mauling of the anthem, as the Norwegians saw it, caused a Stravinskian uproar of the audience at the opening performance in October 1897, and an ensuing scandal. As he was evicted from his hotel and jeered at subsequent performances, Delius quickly withdrew the music.

Another Lollipop follows melodrama; the sublime 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring'. Sir Andrew's Spring is somewhat more breezy at 6:21 than Beecham's (6:29). Beecham's orchestra's phrasings are more nuanced, although both clarinet players manage to sound mournful in their farewell flight into the dusk. Delius requests an "easy flow" at the start of the score, and it is Barbirolli at 7:27 who obeys this fully, creating a magically languid sensation of peace. Where is the Norwegian ingredient? A Norwegian folk tune, given to the flute.

'Eventyr' (variously translated as Tales of Adventure and Once upon a Time) is becoming recorded quite often, although it too is not quite top-drawer Delius. Based on reading Asbjørsen and Moe's compilation of folk tales, this is a phantasmagoria, telling of hunting packs of wolves, trolls under bridges and the crystalline snow-clad mountains in winter. At times the composer is in danger of becoming lost in his own rapture, but it is undeniably colourful, and has a number of surprises, not least the famous shouts of 20 men, usually voices from the orchestra where players were able to use them.

Altogether an important disc for already converted Delius collectors, this disc has one of the best recorded sounds, with a coherent perspective both wide and deep - although there is a tendency to congestion in the large hall acoustic, even in 5.0 multichannel, at the largest climaxes. Nevertheless, the orchestra resourcefully contribute their native understanding, especially where Delius is picturing rural Norway. Although perhaps not a disc for newcomers to the Delius art, it supplies an interesting and entertaining recounting of his love affair with Norway. Well worth considering for your collection.

Copyright © 2014 John Miller and


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