This disc deserves a warm welcome from enthusiasts for Delius. It comes to nearly 80 minutes of music, and most of the music is fairly unfamiliar. Why it should be unfamiliar I'm not at all clear. Eric Fenby seems in no doubt that so far as the Requiem goes the reason is or was that the text is not the familiar Latin text as set by Mozart, Verdi and the rest of them, but it's hard to believe that. Brahms's Requiem is not to that text either, and it could hardly have been classed as unfamiliar even in Fenby's time. It`s not a matter of the quality of the music either as best I can tell. The Requiem, the Idyll and the Songs of Farewell can easily stand beside, say, Sea Drift or Paris in terms of quality, they make no greater demands on resources and they ought to have similar audience-appeal. It seems to be just random luck of the draw, and I for one am more than pleased that someone has seen fit to put right the blind caprice of fortune or of the concertgoing public or whoever we should ascribe it to. The Song Before Sunrise is here too, perhaps just as a filler item but a welcome one to me. It's Sargent's version, not the equal of Beecham's I dare say, but presumably nobody expects it to be that, and a refreshing and interesting change from what we're all used to.
In fact nothing here is from Beecham. The Requiem and Idyll are from Meredith Davies, and the Songs of Farewell are once again from Sargent. The orchestra and chorus are Beecham's RPO and Royal Choral Society, and the performances date from the 60's. They have been digitally remastered, and after two or three hearings I have concluded that all is well with the remastering. I will admit that the choral sound didn't altogether please me in the Requiem first time round, but I think that's down more to the composer than to anyone else. Delius seems to me to resemble Wagner in this, that they both write outstandingly well for the orchestra, very well for the solo voices, but not very well at all for chorus. Beecham could do wonders with Delius's choral sound, but Beecham could do wonders with pretty much anything. Even as remastered the sound is not quite what we would expect from a new recording 40 years on, but I'd say it's perfectly good all things considered. You may or may not like one powerful high note from Heather Harper in the last section of the Requiem that has been caught very close to the microphone, but after being startled on first hearing I find it rather appeals to me. The Requiem is only half an hour long, scored for a big orchestra with chorus and with soprano and baritone soloists as in Brahms's. There are five sections, to words apparently by Delius himself. For some totally inscrutable reason, or possibly for no reason at all, these words are not given in full whereas the words to the other two vocal items are. Heather Harper and John Shirley-Quirk are exemplary in the clarity of their enunciation as you would expect, but without Beecham to help it's not so easy to catch what the chorus are singing, although of course the general message is clear enough.
The Songs of Farewell are - how can one put it? - songs of farewell. They date from the horrible last years of the composer's life, and the story of how he managed to dictate them (straight on to the orchestral version with no prior sketch for piano) when paralysed and blind is one of the most extraordinary and incredible tales of triumph over adversity that I have ever heard. There are five of them, to poems by Whitman, and the settings are purely choral/orchestral without soloists. Whatever my general misgivings about Delius's choral writing, this is one of the better specimens of it, and the music is not his worst either. Regardless of what he is singing about, Delius is Delius is Delius. His idiom is always much the same, and it's only a slight exaggeration to say that most of it goes at much the same speed, a sort of andante or thereabouts. However within the general constraints of his expression the inspiration is strong and consistent, and of course he is about as unmistakable and personal in style as any composer who ever wrote. I don't know all his music yet, but I simply can't get enough of it, and the contents of this disc represent a major find for me. As well as the two major choral works here there is what he renamed the `Idyll', a set of recycled selections from a one-act opera Margot la Rouge, (about a prostitute). The opera dates from 1902, the reworking from near the end when he was in his enforced collaboration with Fenby. It received its first performance in 1933, the year before Delius died, and so, apparently, did all the other items provided in this issue. Fenby tells us that the librettist was `a French authoress' whom he doesn't deign to name. Presumably her libretto was in French, but the duets are sung in English and the words are provided, although Harper and Shirley-Quirk sing clearly enough for us not to need them. It's more beautiful stuff - Delius for me is all beautiful stuff - and as so often I can be thankful for the technology that gives me the unlimited opportunity to hear what the concert-schedulers don't choose to.
It is not my aim to convert anyone to Delius, who is a special taste. For those who need no converting this disc is not to be missed. I want to give it 5 stars just for what it contains, the performances are good by any rational standards anyhow, they don't have to face comparison from Beecham, so 5 stars it is.