About this Recording
8.110906 - DELIUS: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (Beecham) (1928, 1938)
English 

Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934)

Brigg Fair - An English Rhapsody / Koanga: La Calinda

Hassan: Closing Scene / Irmelin Prelude / Appalachia

 

In the early months of 1938 Sir Thomas Beecham and the London Philharmonic Orchestra set about making the records for the third and final volume to be issued by Columbia Records under the auspices of The Delius Society. In presentation it mirrored the previous two: all the discs had a specially-designed label depicting Delius's head and boldly advertising THE DELlUS SOCIETY - Artistic Director Sir Thomas Beecham, Bart; inside each album was a well-produced booklet containing analytical notes with copious musical examples, and each volume had an essay on different aspects of the composer by the writer and critic A. K. Holland (1892-1980).

 

Appalachia was the main work in Volume Three, taking up five of the seven discs; this left space only for some smaller works on the four remaining sides, though it is perhaps interesting to recall that at this time Beecham actually recorded a lot more music than there was room for on the seven discs. Once Appalachia was successfully completed during January 1938 - one of the sessions also took in part of the Florida Suite, which was not issued - the following month he turned his attention to some of Delius's songs. For these he called in one of his favourite singers, the soprano Dora Labbette (1898-1984), and together they recorded altogether five songs with orchestral accompaniment, several in orchestrations which Beecham had himself made. None was published, however, and by the following June it had evidently been decided that the Closing Scene from Hassan, along with two short orchestral pieces, would complete Volume Three.

 

At the songs session Beecham also recorded a purely orchestral passage from the choral work A Mass of Life (again not used) and a concert arrangement of La Calinda, the dance originally to be found in Delius's opera Koanga (1895-7), This was the work of the composer's amanuensis Eric Fen by, completed in the years following Delius's death in 1934 and published four years later. It was the second work in Volume Three in which Fen by had a hand: the other was the Irmelin Prelude, which he had helped Delius to compose in 1931, utilising themes from the opera Irmelin (1890-2) which had never been staged. Beecham had used this delightful miniature as an entr'acte in his production of Koanga at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1935. Fen by was present, and later fondly recalled 'the smiles of approval and delightful comments' which came from the orchestral players as it was being rehearsed.

 

The inclusion of the Closing Scene supplemented two shorter Hassan pieces, lntermezzo and Serenade, which had appeared in Volume One. Beecham had a high regard for the incidental music which Delius had composed for James Elroy Flecker's play (first seen in London in 1923 when it ran for 281 performances) and in later years recorded an extended selection from the score. He described the music as highly contrasted and full of spirit, and relished the various choruses of beggars and soldiers. The Serenade and the Closing Scene he considered to have produced two of Delius's most popular melodies, though it may also have been he who once said that in the Closing Scene the chorus sang the recurring refrain, 'We take the Golden Road to Samarkand', so often that 'one begins to doubt their resolution'...

 

Appalachia was the work which actually introduced Beecham to Delius's music, when it was first heard in London in 1907 under the baton of one of Delius's German champions, Fritz Cassirer, Its effect upon him was instantaneous: 'Like every other musician under thirty years of age who was present I was startled and electrified,' he wrote. 'Here at last was modern music of native growth in which it was possible with uninbibited sincerity to take pride and delight. I formed the unshakeable resolution to playas much of it as I could lay my hands on whenever I had the opportunity?

 

And he was as good as his word. Although he had been conducting professionally for little more than a year, his crusade on behalf of Delius's music began immediately; within the next twelve months, he performed Paris, Brigg Fair, Sea Drift and Over the Hills and Far Away, and gave his own reading of Appalachia, All these works made regular appearances in his repertoire throughout the rest of his life, but in particular he never lost his affection for the colour and originality of Appalachia, performing it not only throughout Britain in towns and cities where he knew there to be a good choir, but taking it abroad to France, Australia and the USA.

 

By the 1930s Beecham had become an international figure, with a colourful conducting presence which made him welcome on rostrums all over the world, When guest-conducting foreign orchestras - such as the New York Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Berlin or the Czech Philharmonic Orchestras ?he would use his personal authority to pursue his Delian zeal. On such occasions the English Rhapsody Brigg Fair, with its self-explanatory title and attractive folk-song atmosphere, made an obvious calling-card and was a good choice for programmes abroad. In 1928 it became the third of the Delius orchestral works he chose to record for Columbia though, as on all Delius occasions, he first needed to be sure that he had precisely the right players to enable him to realise his musical intentions to the fullest extent. It is not possible at this distance to detern1ine which of the London orchestras he conducted for the records of Brigg Fair, though it was evidently one which could not for contractual reasons appear under its own name, hence the bland title 'Symphony Orchestra',

 

Even with players who knew his methods, however, getting the music down easily on the discs was never a foregone conclusion, It is a measure of the pains he took that one complete version of Brigg Fair was rejected, and a total of eleven waxes expended on the first side of its successor before Beecham was satisfied that the standards he set himself in Delius's music had been achieved, As always such painstaking means were justified. On 12th October 1928 Eric Fen by, on only his second day at Grez-sur-Loing, witnessed the blind and paralysed Delius listening to Beecham conduct Brigg Fair in a concert broadcast from London. 'Splendid, Thomas!' he called out, when the last strains had died away. 'That is how I want my music played. Beecham is the only one who has got the hang of it!'

 

Beecham's single-minded championship of Delius's music has passed into legend. From the moment he first heard it in 1907 he was captive of its strange romantic beauty, and its hold over him remained firm. During the next fifty years he gave incomparable performances of the greater part of Delius's orchestral and vocal output, including three of the six operas; he unearthed early pieces, arranged others and recorded the music extensively; he brought out his own editions of the scores, and wrote a full-length biography of the composer. It was a feat surely without parallel in the twentieth century: certainly it is safe to assert that never has a composer's music been promoted to widespread acceptance by a single executive musician in quite this way.

 

Lyndon Jenkins

Chairman, The Delius Society

 


Close the window