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Thus spake Delius,
This review is from: Delius: Mass of Life; Idyll (Audio CD)
You have to surrender to Delius. There is no music headier or more hedonistic than that of the German-born Bradford boy who died in Northern France. At the summit of his dreamy achievement is A Mass of Life which has been given an enticing new recording in this year marking the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth.
Delius was obsessed with Nietzsche and this piece, composed between 1904-5 is one of his most personal works. Charting the life of man, as seen in the course of one day, its vast orchestral and vocal forces summon up a world not dissimilar to that of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder or Mahler's 8th Symphony. It will always remain something of an acquired taste, yet its neglect feels markedly unfair when taken on the strength of this recording.
Given the wall of sound that Delius unleashes on the ear, it is to Hill's great credit that he steers through the treacle, eliciting detail and newly clarified textures. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra sounds wonderfully velvety, though woodwind solos provide a welcome note of refinement. More often than not, however, the sound muddies those waters and the Bach Choir sounds oddly distant (considering its size).
The soloists fare better. Alan Opie takes the lion's share. And while there's more tenderness to Benjamin Luxon's approach with Charles Groves on EMI (sometimes available), Opie has a solidity that works wonderfully in the otherwise sumptuous context of the work. Janice Watson's voice grows in warmth all the time and both she and Catherine Wyn-Rogers add a welcome erotic tinge to their solos. Surrounded by these maturer voices, tenor Andrew Kennedy can sound a little fresh-faced, though he sings equally well.
If this new recording does not quite match the earlier efforts of Groves and the LPO, it's because of the space and warmth that Groves creates, particularly in the orchestral depiction of evening in Part II. Similarly, it is Meredith Davies's recording of the accompanying Prelude and Idyll that leads the charge. But this disc is far more than a mere comparative and a welcome addition to the Delius discography.