on 27 February 2011
Beecham's unique affinity for the music of Delius is well known, but is sometimes taken for granted as being the result of a straightforward liking for a composer who wrote good tunes. This simple-minded judgement does a real disservice to both Beecham and Delius. Beecham's skill in directing performances of Delius's music was hard won and was the result of years of hard work coupled with special insights into what Delius was getting at in these marvellous pieces. When you hear performances by some other conductors (even very distinguished) it becomes clear that Beecham brought something very special indeed to these works.
Towards the end of his extraordinary career, Beecham was persuaded back into the studio to make stereo recordings of works that he had made his own over decades of performances and recordings. The resulting disc was an EMI best-seller and thoroughly deserves its status here as one of "The great recordings of the century". If you are unfamiliar with Delius's music or if you are familiar but doubt Beecham's supposed supremacy in this repertoire then you need to hear this disc. For those of us who know, this is an essential purchase.
A couple of additional late recordings have been added to give the recording time that buyers now expect on a CD. The opening track is one of the finest recordings ever made of the masterpiece; Brigg Fair. With such an overpowering emotional climax drawn from Beecham's own RPO it seems a tall order to follow with anything else and I would have thought it better to put it at the end of the disc (I'd certainly recommend a pause!). However, all of the remaining works are given characterful and delightful performances with an unmatched geniality and charm, and yet also with an underlying sense of structure that makes every detail tell. In spite of my reservations about starting the disc with Brigg Fair, EMI have found a wonderful way to end the disc with Beecham's own perfectly-judged arrangement from the Florida Suite (including that popular hit, the dance "La Calinda"). For me, this is the perfect desert-island disc.
These recordings dating from 1956-1963 enshrine what, for many, is a set of incomparable recordings made by an incomparable Delius expert. Beecham spent a good part of his life promoting these works and others by Delius and the composer himself regarded Beecham as definitive in terms of his understanding and delivery.
In addition to that pedigree, Beecham made these recordings with his own orchestra of hand-picked musicians who were utterly familiar with Beecham's view of Delius.
Listening to these recordings once more, having owned and discarded Handley's otherwise fine disc and retained the Barbirolli selection coupled with Bax and Ireland on the same label, I am left with the clear impression that Beecham undoubtedly brings an extra degree of empathy to these scores. There seems to be an inner glow to the music making that completely eluded Handley. Barbirolli delivers a more emotional and forthright version that also benefits from better sound being significantly newer.
As regards the sound, this latest remastering, as with the Barbirolli disc, has noticeably improved the previous CD with greater clarity and 'presence'. What it cannot do is to improve on the relative lack of depth of sound-stage which makes these venerable recordings seem more 2D rather than 3D aurally. There is also a touch of woodenness to the lower reaches of the sound. Owners of previous CD versions of this disc will probably find it a worthwhile improvement and will not be bothered by the deficiencies mentioned above given the very special character and perceptiveness of the performances themselves.
I would therefore suggest that this anthology remains a desirable classic much to be sought after by Delius fans and Beecham fans. The recording has probably never sounded better and it is unlikely that a more committed supporter of Delius' individual sound world will be found to either match or improve on Beecham's special insights.
on 24 July 2014
Beecham`s interpretations of the music of Delius are legendary, any serious Delius collector will want the recordings of Beecham`s recordings in their collection. The sound quality of these remastered works recorded in the latter part of Beecham`s career are excellent. This is a fine and popular collection of works my only reservation is that only one movement from the "Florida Suite" is on this disc, the full version is available on the double CD set issued by EMI or the box set of "English Music" which would be worth the purchase. However as a stand alone disc this is recommended and a set of recordings that set the standard to Delius recordings.