|About this Recording
8.572902 - DELIUS, F. / IRELAND, J.: Songs (arr. for cello and piano) (J. Lloyd Webber, Jiaxin Cheng, Lenehan)
Frederick Delius (1862–1934)
For a number of years before he turned his hand to composing the orchestral and vocal works that ultimately made his name and for which he has remained best known, Frederick Delius was finding his way into music by writing songs. Indeed, even before he had completed his schooling his mind was clearly moving in that direction: there is an unpublished song dating from around 1880 when he was not yet twenty, and the majority of his sixty or so songs were composed during the next two decades.
Over the Mountains High, Slumber Song and Sunset all date from the period 1885–1888, by which time he had begun experimenting with the orchestra (with the happiest result in 1887 of the Florida Suite). That same year he completed a cycle of seven songs to Danish texts which include In the Seraglio Garden and Through Long, Long Years, for which he provided orchestral as well as piano accompaniments. Three years later, Birds in the High Hall Garden was among five English settings (of Tennyson) that made up his song-cycle Maud for tenor and orchestra.
The purpose in mentioning these dates and associated facts is to pinpoint Delius’s early flowering as a prodigiously gifted composer of melody. As Deryck Cooke (1919–76), one of the most acute commentators on his music, observed, Delius’s genius was essentially lyrical: “His music is a continuous stream of singing melody”, he wrote. That was a view confirmed forcefully by the pre-eminent Delius conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879–1961) at the suggestion that Delius’s music lacked melody. “Ridiculous”, he expostulated, “I have only to turn to control a melody in the violins for the cellos to begin another behind my back!”
Deryck Cooke was, of course, discussing Delius’s song writing in toto, but all the music heard on this disc transcribed onto the strings of a cello has that important characteristic in common, the sheer gift of melody. This is as much the case in With Your Blue Eyes, the Shelley-inspired Love’s Philosophy and Little Birdie, for all that some were composed a decade or more later than those mentioned earlier.
Another evergreen Delian melody, the Serenade which forms part of the incidental music he composed in 1920–23 for a production of James Elroy Flecker’s play Hassan, is heard here in the arrangement for cello and piano made with Delius’s approval in 1931 by his amanuensis Eric Fenby (1906–91).
John Ireland (1879–1962)
John Ireland began to make his name as a composer in the decade or so before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. One of that brilliant group of composers who studied composition under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music, he concentrated on piano, organ and chamber music, and what are now called art songs. He achieved early success and renown with his setting of John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever, written in 1913. The baritone George Parker writes that he gave the second performance of it with Ireland at the piano at the Three Arts Club in the Marylebone Road in London. Parker also writes that he sang it a great deal to the soldiers in the 1914–18 war in France and England. In a BBC poll in the 1920s Sea Fever was voted the most popular of all songs heard over the air, and it has remained Ireland’s best-known song, indeed perhaps his best-known piece in any genre.
Ireland came from a literary family and was widely read in poetry and other forms of literature. Besides Masefield he was strongly attracted to the poetry of AE Housman (Ladslove), Rupert Brooke (Spring Sorrow), Thomas Hardy (Summer Schemes and Her Song), and Christina Rossetti (Hope and Baby). His piano piece The Holy Boy, another work from 1913 (it was written on Christmas Day) that has achieved wide popularity through its many arrangements and in particular in the version with added words by Herbert S. Brown, may have been inspired by a poem by Harold Monro. Another poet much admired by Ireland was James Vila Blake, the nineteenth-century Unitarian minister from Massachusetts, whose Evening Song (translated from the German of Friedrich Rückert) and In Summer Woods were set by Ireland for women’s voices.
Ireland admired Delius enormously but it is not known whether they ever met. It is particularly appropriate that they should be brought together for this anniversary year (the 50th of Ireland’s death and the 150th of Delius’s birth) in this imaginative recording of cello transcriptions of their songs, recalling the lovely cello transcriptions of the songs of that other great composer for the voice, Gabriel Fauré.
Note by Julian Lloyd Webber
I began playing all the cello music composed by Frederick Delius and John Ireland during my student days at the Royal College of Music, but it never occurred to me to arrange their songs for cello and piano until 2010, when I chanced upon a copy of Delius’s early song cycle Maud. The first of the songs, Birds in the High Hall Garden, struck me as top-drawer Delius. How could such a beautiful piece of music have remained almost completely unknown? I could hear the solo line singing beautifully on the cello and I determined to investigate all Delius’s songs to discover what treasures I had been missing. And then I turned my attentions to another favourite composer, John Ireland, who composed well over eighty songs.
This is not the place to analyse differences between Delius and Ireland but rather to celebrate both composers’ remarkable gift for melody, which may come as a welcome surprise to some listeners. John Lenehan and I spent a wonderful few days luxuriating in these captivating miniatures and it was also a pleasure to be joined by my wife, the Chinese cellist Jiaxin Cheng, in two of Ireland’s delightful part songs, specially arranged here for two cellos and piano.
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