Delius – Concertos for Violin and Cello – Tasmin Little & Paul Watkins [BBCSO/Andrew Davis; Chandos]

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Delius
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra [Edited Thomas Beecham & Eric Fenby]

Tasmin Little (violin) & Paul Watkins (cello)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis

Recorded 13-14 October 2010 in All Saints Church, Tooting, London


Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: January 2012
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5094
Duration: 69 minutes

Born in Bradford (in the North of England), the much-travelled Frederick Delius (1862-1934) spent much of his life abroad. Of German extraction (christened Fritz) he was, as a young man barely out of school, employed in the family wool business which involved travelling to Germany, Sweden and France. Concentrating more on studying music than his job, he was sent by his father to Florida to learn about growing oranges, although his father capitulated and in 1886 his son was allowed to study music in Leipzig. Thereafter, an uncle hosted him in Paris, where he met the artist Jelka Rosen, and in 1903 set up home with her at Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainbleau, where he spent most of the rest of his life. He also enjoyed annual Summer holidays in Norway.

All of these locations influenced his music to some degree or other, but the earliest years spent in Yorkshire seem to imbue much though not all of his music with a quintessentially English flavour. Others do feel differently and view Delius as largely an international composer. Early works may have been inspired to an extent by Richard Strauss and Edvard Grieg; and, for some years, writing in classical forms, was anathema to Delius.

It was the Harrison sisters who made such an impression on Delius that he revised his opinions. Hearing May and Beatrice Harrison play Brahms’s Double Concerto at a concert which included some of his music in Manchester in 1914 affected the composer deeply. So was born the first of the three works on this recording, the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, completed in 1916 though not performed until the after the Great War had ended, in1920. This concerto and the other two on this disc do not follow the three-movement tradition or have energetic beginnings and ends or bravura flourishes. Tasmin Little and Paul Watkins sound as one in this recording, blending and listening like chamber musicians. In addition, both are balanced naturally much as in the concert hall, rather than spot-lit. The listener can follow all of the parts, both solo and orchestral, and details are presented with clarity.

Delius’s Violin Concerto, written for Albert Sammons whose 1944 recording remains a gem in the catalogue (on Testament or Naxos), was written directly after the Double Concerto, and also had to wait for its first performance, in 1919 conducted by Dr Adrian Boult. Tasmin Little has had this soaring work in her repertoire for some time, and the experience shows, especially in those parts well above the stave, which are as secure and well-considered as one could hope for. Coupled with this are spontaneity, so essential in Delius, and an ebb and flow that finds a sympathetic partner in Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The cadenza is wonderfully played and paced. Little’s earlier recording (now on Decca) with Sir Charles Mackerras is an equally fine performance, but Chandos’s more-natural balance has the greater appeal. EMI’s anniversary box includes the Double Concerto and Violin Concerto in Yehudi Menuhin’s recordings, the former with Paul Tortelier, well worth hearing, but less refined in playing (and sound) than this newcomer.

Beatrice Harrison was also the recipient of the Cello Concerto which Delius began soon after the first performances of the two earlier concertos, and the Cello Sonata he had also written for Harrison. Delius, in England again in 1920, back for a visit from Grez-sur-Loing, stayed with the Harrisons for a while, and as with the previous works, there was consultation between composer and soloist. Paul Watkins’s rich and focused tone brings out the best in this work. The scherzo dances lightly on its feet and the music leading to the coda is movingly presented. Again, Davis and the BBCSO are wonderful partners, and the recording is truthfully balanced. Jacqueline du Pré’s recording with Sir Malcolm Sargent is very fine indeed and Watkins’s reading certainly deserves to stand alongside that classic. In addition, he mostly uses the original part rather than the one by Herbert Withers. Not long after the first performance, it was thought the writing for the soloist was more demanding than necessary (all three concertos with their rhapsodic feeling and ruminating slow movements are fearsomely difficult when needing effortless, relaxed results). They are much more difficult and tricky than they appear to be.

These are first-class performances with superb sound quality. I look forward enthusiastically to the third instalment of Chandos’s Andrew Davis Delius series.

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