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Delius A Village Romeo and Juliet

Denis Dowling Manz; 2nd Peasant ; Frederick Sharp Marti ; Margaret Ritchie Sali as a child ; Lorely Dyer Vreli ; Gordon Clinton Dark Fiddler ; Dorothy Bond Vreli as a child; Gingerbread Woman ; Marjorie Avis Wheel of Fortune Woman; 1st Woman ; Gwladys Garside Cheap Jewellery Woman; 2nd & 3rd Women; Wil ; Lloyd Strauss-Smith Showman; Poor Horn Player ; Donald Munro Merry-Go-Round Man; 1st Peasant ; Marion Davies Slim Girl ; Philip Hattey Hunchbacked Bass-Fiddler ; René Soames ten Sali

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus/Sir Thomas Beecham

Naxos 8.110982-83 [144 mins]

A striking contrast with the Naxos Dvorak intégrale I was reviewing yesterday! This double-CD in the Naxos historical Great Conductors series is a labour of love by all concerned, from Beecham himself to David Lennick's production and Ian Julier's essay (and with different cover photos of Beecham on each album!). The background information is comprehensive, with details of Matrix Nos. and their recording dates.

Under Beecham's wizardry, Delius's fourth opera comes up fresh and movingly involving, especially for older listeners for whom the credits bring back from the deepest recesses of memory the names and voices of leading British singers who were all familiar in concert and on the radio after the War. Recorded in 1948, the singers of those days don't compare with the best now, and frailties abound which will disturb younger listeners. But heard with nostalgic ears, taking me back to my musical formative years, I admired the clarity of diction (all easy to follow without a libretto) and happily took in my stride the incongruities of old-fashioned articulation and vocal delivery, not to speak of technical problems, about which Gramophone had been scathing in 1992.

The story takes us from warring families to a suicide by scuttling a boat (did Britten know it when composing the end of Peter Grimes?). But it is all gentle romantic stuff; only the jollities of the vagabonds in the Paradise Garden are embarrassing - one short scene which I could do without. But for the rest, take it as a period piece, with Delius's melodic invention and lush harmony at their best in many scenes, and this is well worth hearing, certainly so at the Naxos price.

The generous selection of extras includes the final scene (mainly orchestral) of another Delius opera, Koanga, and one of my favourites of his works and Beecham's recordings, the depiction of Mountains, Solitudes and Nature in The Song of the High Hills for orchestra and voices.

We used to believe that no-one but Sir Thomas Beecham could conduct Delius properly, and I was quickly under his spell again; I never missed a Beecham concert in London. Accept it as a historical recording and I hope you'll love it?


© Peter Grahame Woolf