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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

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I fell in love with the music of Frederick Delius (1862-1934) quite literally at primary school. I can remember being struck dumb with a lump in my throat when Mrs Rutherford played us `The Walk to the Paradise Garden'. This appreciation was cultivated by my Mother who familiarised me with the famous miniatures. Then, as I young man I discovered the choral works and the larger scale tone poems. Doing things the wrong way round, as I did, I didn't discover the likes of Beethoven and Shostakovich until my early thirties. When I did, their earnestness cast a shadow of doubt over what I perceived to be the sentimentalism and even mawkishness of Delius and other `English Pastoralists' I had grown up with, such as Vaughan Williams, which led me to neglect them for something over a decade. But people change, and sometimes even change back, and various factors have conspired to rekindle these affections, so I have recently had great delight rediscovering some old favourites. In the process it occurred to me that I had never explored any of Delius' chamber music, or indeed anything of his involving a piano. This disc came out high in my search of the Amazon listings and the prospect was intriguing. How would Delius manage all those lush, stacked chords in such a stripped back medium? Would he try and fail, or would I perhaps find another Delius entirely? I can say that I have absolutely no regrets about my purchase, and that aside from the near negligible price.

The first question one is inclined to ask is why did he suppress the publication of the clearly brilliant Sonata in B of 1892, eventually to be published posthumously? Superficially at least the bright and exuberant work comes across as that of a vigorous young man picking up the baton from a profound but exhausted Brahms. Heard on its own merits it is a very worthy piece. The writing for violin makes no attempt at virtuosity, but aims instead for a marvellous lyricism that is like an outpouring from the primal well of song. Beneath it, the piano modulates with huge freedom of invention, and although the harmonic language is not yet of the richness we will come to know as uniquely his, what we hear is still clearly recognisable as Delius, to be confused with no one else. It has also been pleasing to find that Delius' pianism was as highly developed as his other faculties, being quite able to extract from it a personal palette of sonorities and rhythmic variation. Indeed in this early sonata it is fair to say that the piano does all the work, until more or less the last few minutes, leaving the violin free to soar and sing.

With Sonata No.1 (1905-14) we hear immediately that much has changed. Most obvious to me was a new freedom in his rhythmic approach that implied a new level of abstraction. A willingness to let notes linger, and to stagger the unfolding of harmonic sequences, leads to an enriched sense of emotional ambiguity. It is also fair to say that the bold confidence of the younger man has been replaced by the profoundly mixed poignancy of the mature Delius. It seems to me that most of Delius' mature works are like those symmetrical illusions, such as that of the vase or two faces. From one side we hear music that is evocative of landscape and countryside, frequently suggestive of winds or breezes swirling in long grass or piling up tall clouds, often with a huge light pouring from behind from unseen sources. From the opposing angle though the music depicts a human soul whose life and heart have been devastated. This paradox is descriptive of Delius' own life who was struck down and gradually crippled by syphilis. The opening of this sonata is stormy and tumultuous while remaining tender and lush in a way that only Delius can manage. The violin still sings and everything remains in the service of supernally beautiful melody. The final movement depicts the effort by shimmering, flickering elements to constrain and tame the violence unleashed in the first. There is an abundance of gorgeous heartache in between.

Sonata No.2 (1923) comes from a time when the terrible illness that people are so reluctant to name was eating him alive. It is a single movement work, only half as long as No.1, necessarily composed by dictation to his wife, Jelka. What the work lacks in length it seeks to make up for in density of content, and indeed there is a great deal to unravel in it. As ever, melody is king. I myself find numerous resonances with his choral masterpiece, Delius: Sea Drift / Songs of Sunset. Amidst this, for the first time on the disc we find the temperature of the violin rising to degrees that leave the possibilities of the human voice behind. The slow movement unfolds as a struggle between a tempestuous anguish, that can no longer be confused with anything bucolic, and music of infinite tenderness that speaks of the most abstract forms of love. The finale is tight and robust, conveying a determination not to yield to defeat or despair.

Sonata N.3 (1930) was dictated to Eric Fenby in the final period of his life and illness. The work seems to me to be a return to the `landscape Delius', the worshipper of Nature, after the struggle with bitterness that characterises No.2. The opening movement is like a delicious dream occasionally disturbed by an outburst of violence. The middle is a triplet dance of a Highland flavour that we know we have heard more than once before in his works. The finale is a brief but intense synthesis of themes and idioms that seems to be trying to break through to something new.

The performances and recording are entirely convincing. Tasmin Little come to the music with absolutely nothing to prove and so her contribution is correspondingly sincere. Piers Lane is pianist who seems to be turning up on quite a few of my latest purchases, and look forward to coming to know his artistry better still.
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on 23 January 2012
Tasmin Little, one of our supreme violinists, had the great advantage of knowing Eric Fenby, who wrote down the last of these works at the composer's dictation: for Delius was by then blind and paralysed. Tasmin first met Fenby when she was only 13; he showed her just how the music should be played, and continued to offer her guidance and support as her career developed. As it happened, she learned of his death on the day she and Piers Lane met to record these four sonatas in February 1997: thus the recording is as much a tribute to him, the composer's faithful amenuensis, as to the composer himself.
The three numbered sonatas were written between 1905 and 1930: but just as impressive in its way is the early unnumbered sonata, written in 1892, which remained unpublished until 1977. As Little remarks in her 'personal thoughts' on these works, it 'has an intimacy about it which is hard to resist'. It is clear that she truly loves this music, for which she is today the greatest living advocate. And Piers Lane is also clearly devoted to Delius.
All four sonatas, different though they are, are a source of joy; and it is hard to imagine them being better played or recorded. This is very accessible music, and - at any price - a most rewarding disc. Highly recommended.

Added in Edit: As an historic supplement to this disc, Delians should also consider Albert Sammons in the three numbered sonatas [plus the second by Edmund Rubbra] in a wonderful 2006 Dutton restoration [CDBP 9768]. The first sonata derives from unique unpublished Columbia tests made in 1929 with Evelyn Howard-Jones; and the second sonata, by the same artists, comes from very rare 1924 discs made soon after they had given the work's first performance. Though this is an acoustic recording, it sounds amazing, and is no mere historical curiosity. In the third sonata, made for Decca in 1944, Sammons is joined by Kathleen Long. Gerald Moore in 1946 joins Sammons in the Rubbra sonata, made not very long before illness ended the great fiddler's career.
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on 6 August 2011
The scholarly and helpful review of these Sonatas by the previous contributor needs no elaboration.I can only echo his enthusiasm and rejoice along with him at such musical riches for so little money.Tasmin Little is the ideal exponent of these works,having immersed herself in the life and work of the composer.She and her partner Piers Lane do ample justice to these beautiful works.Highly recommended.
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on 4 June 2014
There's something about this recording that I find quite difficult to put a finger on. The music is not easy in the first place, being full of juxtaposed half-tones (correct me if I'm wrong, I'm not a musician) and note sequences that wander in and out of atonality. My problem is that whilst at any instant it sounds well played, each work, as a whole, just does not stand up; the architecture is not seen for the detail. I find the violin playing very full-on, very insistent, as if every note is the most important note in the work. Although there are more relaxed sections, one of these sounding like a different recording session, there is little in between the full-on and the laid-back, no dynamic interplay. I also felt on occasion that Little failed to pick up on rubato introduced, admirably, by Lane.

I replaced this with the Holmes/Fenby recording which I find more to my liking. If I dare say so, I find Holmes' playing more in tune (yes, really!) than Little's. The note sequences seem to make more sense, and thus the architecture of the pieces comes through better. I would say Holmes also shows more subtlety, is more probing, and has greater understanding of these works. Except of course for the op. posth. sonata which is not played.

Fans of Tasmin Little will still want this, no doubt, but I would refer fans of Delius to Holmes/Fenby on Unicorn Kanchana, occasionally available second-hand.
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The fourth and last sonata here dies away finally through a perfectly controlled diminuendo into absolute silence. It is effective just as a piece of violin playing, even more so by contrast with the robust endings of the previous sonatas, and by contrast also with the full-bodied tone that Tasmin Little has generally been adopting throughout the recital. To listeners familiar with Delius's biography it cannot but suggest the picture of the composer at the time of its composition, when he was blind and paralysed and keeping the eternal silence at bay with his last musical thoughts, dictated via an amanuensis.

There are four sonatas altogether, providing an hour and a quarter of very fine music that we ought to hear more frequently than the despots of musical broadcasting permit. Three have official numbers, but there is an earlier piece dating from 1892 that would surely be a welcome addition to the standard repertory. It is in a late romantic idiom, hardly recognisable as being by Delius but no tentative beginner's effort and likely to appeal to a wider audience than his later and more characteristic stuff does. By 1892 he was 30, and by that age Schubert, another victim of the affliction that had disabled Delius, had a huge output behind him and less than two years more to live. What we have here from Delius is a vigorous, assured and spontaneous work full of natural and unforced melody, but he had deeper musical ideas to convey, and he imparts some of those in the three sonatas that follow.

The fully characteristic Delius becomes more recognisable with each successive work, their dates being 1905-14, 1923 and 1930. Tasmin Little modifies her style in parallel with the composer's own developing idiom, almost hearty to begin with, but ending with that awesome diminuendo. The recording lacks for nothing in the way of immediacy, and possibly you might find it a bit too in-yer-face. However it is blessedly free of extraneous sound-effects, and the piano tone is pleasant, provided you do not consider it to be kept too much in the background. In some composers I would have criticised the balance from that point of view, but I can live with it in Delius. He thought in terms of violin sound much more than piano sound, and although you would not expect the piano to be just accompaniment at this late date it is still the junior partner, although Piers Lane handles his task very adeptly.

These performances are apparently available also on another label, but as this one comes for next to nothing in England at least it is an automatic recommendation. I should also say that there is a simple but excellent liner note, sincere and to the point. I can now put right under my own control any shortcomings on the part of the broadcasting schedulers as far as these fine works are concerned.
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on 13 September 2011
By anybody's standards, if you've got [] quid to spend and you want some undemanding (only from the listener's point of view; anything but, from the performers' side), reflective music to lose yourself in, then go ahead and buy this CD; it's a gift. I had to go back to the main page to check that it really is that price - I paid a pound more, but I've already had a pound's worth of extra time to listen to it.
Rooted in nineteenth century expansive, free-flowing lyricism, there are occasional hints of more modern harmonies and note sequences. You can't really sing along with these massive melodies but you sure wish you could. But if you can't stand to listen to anything less spiky than Bartok or Berg, perhaps you would be better to find another destination for your two hundred pennies.
There's a strong temptation to use cliché adjectives such as 'delicious', 'sumptuous', 'sensuous'; that, frankly, would be demeaning to the music, but I can't think of more dignified words to use, and yet still convey the all-enveloping pleasure of the listening experience. I imagine these sonatas must be overwhelmingly pleasurable and rewarding to play - there seems so much scope for self-expression in the prolonged melodic sequences; Tasmin Little is certainly convinced by the music and does an enthusiastic job of conveying that conviction, totally dedicated and uplifting in what she expresses.
At times, there is a little perturbation, rather than agitation, in the music, but the optimism soon returns with that sheer expansive pleasure for life that reminds me of - sorry, another potentially demeaning description coming - the visual impact of the opening scenes of 'The Sound of Music' viewed on a really big screen. There, I've probably offended all music lovers and film buffs in one go.
As to the technical aspects of the recording, I perceived a slight disappointing rumble at times, the sort one had to accept on early vinyl LPs, but it's very slight and to comment such is probably looking a gift horse in the mouth so intently that you are in danger of falling down its throat.
If you want a scholarly assessment of this music and these performances, there's nothing more to add after the erudite words of the first reviewer in this sequence. For my part, I set out to try to convey their pure hedonistic effect. I'm sure there will be listeners who will disagree with just about every word I have written, but, hey, would you complain too much if, on a stranger's advice, you bought two Lotto tickets and failed to win the jack-pot? Go ahead and buy the CD; at the very worst you will be left with something immeasurably more useful than two pieces of pink paper!
As for me, I'll re-fill my glass, grab a few more grapes and listen on.
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on 30 July 2013
As an early music fan I am not usually drawn to works dating this late, but Delius is a much under recognised British composer (aren't they all sadly), while these sonatas are clearly of their time it is a worthy addition to anyone's music collection. I have had to listen to the recording a few time to appreciate how good it actually is, though this is more due to the fact that it did not grab me from the start. I am a fan of Tasmin Little's light elegant playing and she seems to have covered a lot of British composers (Vaughn Williams etc). Interestingly this has re-sparked my love of Django Rheinhardt, and while Delius died the same year that Django was born they both seem to embrace the feel of the late Edwardian early arts and crafts era from very different musical perspective.
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on 16 January 2012
This must be the best bargain of my many Amazon CD purchases. The music is bright and airy, and lifts the spirits in the same way as Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending...
Nature at it's best: surely Delius must have been well pleased by it
How can I have overlooked it until now?
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on 15 March 2013
This was a chance purchase on the basis of my love of Delius' music. At first these pieces sound deceptively simple but after a few listens Delius' mastery of composition shows itself. These are beautiful pieces in which the violin and piano compliment and intertwine with each other. Music in which to completely lose yourself.
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on 29 December 2013
I have always hated Delius. What I hear is effeminate and unconvincing. However, Tasmin Little could play Pop goes the Weasel and make it sound good, so at a very low price I risked buying these and came very near to enjoying them!
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