Delius Appalachia & The Song of the High Hills [BBCSO/Andrew Davis; Chandos]

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Delius
Appalachia – Variations on an Old Slave Song with Final Chorus [Revised and edited by Sir Thomas Beecham]
The Song of the High Hills

Andrew Rupp (baritone) [Appalachia]

Olivia Robinson (soprano) & Christopher Bowen (tenor)

BBC Symphony Chorus

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis

Recorded 15 & 16 October 2010 in All Saints’ Church, Tooting, London


Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: April 2011
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5088
Duration: 64 minutes

Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was born in Bradford and was destined to join the family (wool) business. After a stint in Gloucestershire, the young Delius was posted to Germany, Sweden then France, ever neglecting his work pursuing musical performances. Eventually, in 1884 he went to Florida to grow oranges, continuing his musical education in Virginia and beginning a career in music through teaching and composing. By 1886 his father had become resigned to his son’s musical ambitions and agreed to subsidise further education in Leipzig, after which an uncle hosted him in Paris. In 1903, he married the artist Jelka Rosen and lived in Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau for most of the rest of his life. From 1887 summer holidays were spent in the mountains of Norway, an habitual pursuit for Delius until the 1920s when his deteriorating health made travel impossible.

Such extensive travelling provided much inspiration for Delius’s music. This excellent release from Chandos includes two works from two periods of his life, Appalachia from 1896 inspired by black workers at a tobacco factory singing an old slave song, and the second from 1912, The Song of the High Hills inspired by those annual trips to Norway.

Appalachia began life as Appalachia: an American Rhapsody, an orchestral work. In 1902, dissatisfied with it, Delius re-thought the score adding a baritone solo and chorus. The quiet, wide-open almost palpable atmosphere of the introduction and the piece’s dying moments are exquisitely caught by Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The first appearance of the slave song has its own magic as it emerges organically like the flowering of a water-lily. Equally impressive is the first entrance of the chorus. The timbre of Andrew Rupp’s voice suits the baritone part very well, a big, bold sound. Alun Jenkins, soloist in Sir John Barbirolli’s wonderful recording on EMI has greater richness and beauty, Rupp more power. Sir Thomas Beecham, that great champion of Delius and who edited Appalachia, did not re-record the work in stereo after his 1938 recording, and fine though that performance is, it cannot begin to compete sonically with the superb sound from Chandos.

The Song of the High Hills is once again scored for large orchestra with a chorus wholly a part of the texture, but, in this case, entirely wordless. The work gives the impression of beginning at dawn and ending at dusk, framing the ascent and descent of a mountain, Andrew Burn in his excellent booklet essay, states this was both Delius’s amanuensis Eric Fenby’s and Beecham’s respective perceptions of the piece’s structure. Andrew Davis and his forces have the integrity of the work well-controlled avoiding a series of disconnected episodes – the journey is always clear. Olivia Robinson and Christopher Bowen are excellently balanced in the spacious vista and the chorus is clear and defined.

The outdoors feeling of all of the music here is very successfully captured by a spacious yet well-focussed recording made in an old-favourite venue. In SACD format the sound is spectacular, the stereo track revealing greater focus and resolution over the CD layer. This is an exquisite release blessed by the wonderfully rapt playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra producing glitteringly polychromatic results under one its favourite conductors, Andrew Davis. If only this was the first in a Delius series from these forces.

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