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David Threasher
Gramophone, December 2012

…the real revelation on record in 2012 came from the Bach Choir’s recording of Delius’s A Mass of Life: strong choral singing, penetrating direction from David Hill and a heroic turn in the lead role from Alan Opie. © 2012 Gramophone

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, December 2012

This year there have been many memorable new recordings of Delius’s beautiful music, but this one impressed me the most. The reviewer has well said, “David Hill brings the score to life in a way that you seldom hear…” © 2012 MusicWeb International

Richard A. Kaplan
Fanfare, November 2012

When [A Mass of Life] appeared in 1997, I rated that reading, on Chandos, the best since Beecham’s…That honor goes now to the present offering…Alan Opie…teases the text gingerly, making a credible Zarathustra. In some numbers, Delius asks the soloists to share parts, with some of Zarathustra’s lines persuasively taken by Andrew Kennedy, and a portion of Life’s happily rendered by Janice Watson, though Catherine Wyn-Rogers’s beguiling, seductive Life recalls Monica Sinclair’s divinatory geste for Beecham. The choral work is beyond praise…

Idyll has not lacked for vocally lustrous, persuasive performances submerging Whitman’s quaintness…in absolute conviction. Of major interest, the lovingly lingering 1981 account led by Eric Fenby…features Felicity Lott and Thomas Allen…Meredith Davies’s still-available 1968 tilt at Idyll, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is made memorable by the divinatory partnership of Heather Harper and John Shirley-Quirk. In keeping with his go at the Mass of Life, Hill pushes the work a bit, spurring the impassioned moments to escalate from the pervasive tone of wistful elegy. Opie…is authoritatively resonant, in response to Janice Watson’s brightly edged soprano…with its gloriously amber lower register, buxomly filling the part of the nameless woman.

In sum, a superb production and the grandest addition to the Delius discography in many years. Highest recommendation. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, November 2012

This is virtuoso Delius: dramatic, poignant, stirring. The Mass is Mahlerian in scope, from the awe-inspiring opening invocation with huge double chorus and orchestra, to the delicacy of “On the Mountains” with its distant horn calls, Delius’s achingly beautiful paean to his beloved Norwegian peaks. Throughout, he revels in the huge contrasts in scale and detail, unbridled exaltation in life and the human spirit, and serene reflections on love and mortality.

Conductor David Hill[’s]…current choir is in excellent form, with imposing tone and solid technique. The Bournemouth Symphony, Hickox’s orchestra, again impresses under Hill, notably the fine horn section. Hill conducts a vibrant performance with a fine sense of majesty and plenty of drive.

Hill has, in Alan Opie, the finest baritone soloist since Bruce Boyce set the gold standard for Beecham. At 67, Opie’s years of singing have only enriched the voice and expression. The other three soloists are effective in the smaller parts…The setting is in the composer’s most evocative style: sentimental, yearning, and finally ecstatic. Opie is again a commanding presence…

Hill’s superb baritone and his clear sense of shape and destination are this new release’s major strengths, and those looking for a budget introduction to this repertoire will not be disappointed. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

John Terauds
Musical Toronto, October 2012

…Delius’…symphonic tone poems evocative of the sights and sounds of nature are particularly endearing.

Mass of Life, which has nothing to do with religion or traditional spirituality, is a massive cantata or oratorio that celebrates the rise of a new kind of human, one who has overcome morality as a sort of good-and-evil-free super-being.

Delius’s music is appropriately larger-than-life, using a huge orchestra, two choruses and requiring four powerful soloists. The music alternates between exhortation and bliss, stirring its listeners to contemplate something greater than themselves within themselves.

This is a spectacularly vivid recording that captures both grand and intimate moments with utter clarity. © 2012 Musical Toronto Read complete review

WETA, October 2012

Frederick Delius was greatly impressed by Nietsche, and chose that philosopher’s existential novel Also sprach Zarathustra as inspiration for his Mass of Life…Reflecting Delius’ personal views of life, the work is especially challenging for the baritone soloist. Alan Opie has made this part a specialty, and presents it with conviction and power in this performance. © 2012 WETA Read complete review

Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, September 2012

…this performance has done more than any other I’ve heard to win me over…David Hill brings the score to life in a way that you seldom hear and his performers are fully paid up for the project so that they sing and play with full commitment.

There are technical reasons for this, most notably the recorded sound which is superb. The Naxos engineers have done a great job of capturing the acoustic of the Lighthouse, picking out each line with more precision…Each line is clearly audible, even the instrumental lines, such as the harps, which could get lost in other contexts, including a live performance. Hill is also blessed with excellent soloists. Alan Opie as Zarathustra is excellent, more declamatory…Janice Watson and Catherine Wyn-Rogers are also very good, but the one who really comes as balm to the ears is Andrew Kennedy. His gorgeous, honey-sweet tenor is a delight to listen to, leavening the texture every time he appears and quickening the ear whenever he turns up in the big ensembles.

However, the thing that really sets this performance apart is Hill’s conducting. He gets inside the mood of each movement in a way I found even more convincing than Hickox. It’s a commonplace that the opening chorus of each part is full of energy, but Hill elevates that dynamism to a new level. The opening chord of Part One is like the crack of a starting pistol and the whole of that first movement proceeds with such exuberance as to be uplifting and exhilarating, perhaps the place in the work where text and music fit each other most successfully. He captures this effervescent life force beautifully, and he does so even more successfully in the two great dance-songs, which carried me along much more convincingly than did Hickox. The first one is a triumph: it is shaped organically so that it grows naturally out of the opening recitatives and when the fugue arrives on Das ist ein Tanz the whirl of the dance is almost bewildering. This exhilarating sweep carries on into the evening scene of the second part where Zarathustra comes upon the dancing maidens. Here the music carries on its exhilarating sweep, if anything even more so than in the first movement, and Hill builds the multifaceted edifice in a way that even won over a cynic like me. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, August 2012

Naxos extend their Delius catalogue with a very strong Mass and a substantial, rare and far from inconsequential bipartite work recovered from a 1902 opera.

A Mass of Life sets Nietszche’s words. It begins with a whooping celebration of life. It’s a tribute to David Hill and his musicians and technical team that this rolling wave of joy is exceptionally well caught.

…this Mass presents Delius with glowing fidelity. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Blair Sanderson, July 2012

This performance by conductor David Hill, the Bach Choir, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is an important addition to the catalog, mainly because A Mass of Life is rarely performed, let alone recorded, and unless historical recordings by Thomas Beecham or Charles Groves are acceptable, this is one of a handful of modern, all-digital recordings available. Any admirer of Delius should hear this composition at least once, and many fans will want to give this recording several hearings. The Prelude and Idyll that were adapted from Delius’ opera, Margot la Rouge, are pleasant filler for the second disc in the package. © 2012 Read complete review

Jeremy Dibble
Gramophone, July 2012

There is no doubt from the vivid opening choruses of Parts 1 and 2 of this recording (and what openings!) that the message of the work is a life-affirming one. There is a dynamic momentum to the tempi which perfectly evokes Zarathustra’s ruling passion, the Will of Man, and there is a richness to the orchestral sound which adds to the sense of muscularity. The chorus negotiate Delius’s often awkward vocal intervals with great skill and the intonation is virtually flawless.

Hill brings energy and élan to the third section, ‘In deine Auge’ (for me perhaps the most exhilarating section of Part 1), where the parallel with the end of Act 2 of Die Meistersinger is almost palpable and where the most unusual example of a Delius fugue (!) is given life, vigour and meaning.

Alan Opie, who has the lion’s share of the solo music in the work, is almost Wotan-like in his performances. From his first Nietzschean dance he is majestic and brings out of the score that vibrant, heady, Teutonic contemporaneity with which Delius had clearly become enthralled at this point in his career. Opie’s singing of what is effectively the role of Zarathustra has immense authority and his impressive range (up to high G) is ideal for Delius’s onerous vocal demands.

Andrew Kennedy, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Janice Watson also offer fine lyrical interpretations of their solo parts and the choral accompaniments are allowed to intermingle subtly as an extension of the orchestra. The BSO are on fine form too, and special mention needs to be made of the haunting horn-playing in the introduction to Part 2 (‘On the Mountains’), a sound which sums up so much of Delius’s nature music.

This is a must for any Delius Liebhaber and, with the added bonus of the late Prelude and Idyll, a marvellous starting point for anyone new to Delius’s unique but compelling art. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Anthony Burton
BBC Music Magazine, July 2012

David Hill’s impressive new recording with his Bach Choir (in the original German text) boats confident, ardent choral singing and orchestral playing, and a strong solo team…As fill-up, there’s the Prelude and Idyll from 1932…the hauntingly beautiful piece is a valuable addition to this celebration of Delius’s 150th anniversary. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine

James Norris
Audiophilia, June 2012

This new Naxos recording… is one of the most successful that I have heard in bringing the text and creative balance of the work to life. David Hill has produced a fine performance from his forces and the dramatic baritone of Alan Opie suits the role of the hero admirably without pushing the balance of the other singers out of focus.

This is a performance well worth having of this neglected work…All lovers of Delius should have this on their shelves. © 2012 Audiophilia Read complete review

William Hedley
International Record Review, June 2012

The performance of the Mass is superbly paced by Hill, and Opie is magnificent. © 2012 International Record Review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2012

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Frederick Delius’s birth, we now have only the fourth recording of his great choral work, A Mass of Life. Maybe at long last its time has come, for in an age when British audiences were looking towards sacred works to reinforce their belief in eternal life, the agnostic, Delius, hurt them with the sentiments the work expresses, the words taken from Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. Now it has the powerful and passionate performance the score has been awaiting, the Bach Choir surely the UK’s most outstanding large choir, and one the finest the country has ever produced. From the very opening they produce a sound quality that tingles with excitement, the sopranos fearless in high passages. Sir Thomas Beecham’s love of everything that Delius composed had placed him as the work’s champion, and he had William Wallace produce an English translation that would please British sentiment, and it was in that translation it became known and recorded by him in 1953. Here we revert to the German text, and if the chosen singers for this new recording are British, they sing very much in a central European operatic mode. Indeed the tenor, Andrew Kennedy, moves the sounds to Austria, and we even hear hints of Mahler. I could eulogise on the contribution of all four soloists, Janice Watson’s warm and sensuous soprano so perfect for the role Delius gives her, while Alan Opie has that resonant baritone that settles on notes as they add a rich and warm quality. It leaves Catherine Wyn-Rogers’ nicely focused voice to collect the crumbs that Delius gave to the mezzo. Having lived for years with all of the work’s available studio recordings, this is the version I would want. It is filled out with the Prelude and Idyll, the music recycled from a discarded opera, Margot la Rouge. The second part is scored for soprano, baritone, and orchestra and uses Walt Whitman’s words, I pass’d through a populous city. One of the previous recordings also featured the Bournemouth Symphony, and they are again in fine form for the conductor, David Hill. The superb sound quality surpasses those that have gone before. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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