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Both the previous reviewers are clearly knowledgable about the musical qualities of the "Mass", so I won't try to upstage them. Let me concentrate instead on the underlying philosophy of the piece. The text is, of course, taken from Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra", and actually reflects Delius' own philosophy of life. Like Nietzsche, Delius eschewed organised religion, believing that man is a free spirit who must make his own way in the world, and that, for the "higher man" (Ubermensch) who is able to transcend his sense of obligation to a power greater than himself, the sea of possibilities is virtually infinite, and a source of ultimate joy. These sentiments are depicted in the wonderfully affirmative nature of much of Delius' music - for instance, in the barnstorming introductory section where chorus and orchestra blaze out a paean to the human Will, and the passion for life.

But few are they who have sufficient resolve to shake free the shackles that keep man in servitude, to reach out to the life of true freedom. The quest involves single-minded dedication and hardship, and the "higher man" must plough a lonely furrow, often mocked and despised by others. Here the music is more remote and contemplative. There are two beautiful orchestral interludes in which Delius depicts Zarathustra among the solitude of the mountains, or alone at dusk in meditative mood.

"A Mass of Life" was completed around 1905, although some passages date back to the 1890s. Listening to the music today, it is easy to forget its own milieu when audiences were steeped in the nineteenth century classics. No other English composer was writing music like this at the time. Scored for full orchestra, chorus and soli, and weighing in at almost one hour forty minutes, this is a substantial work by any standards, and reminds us that Delius was far more than a nature-painiting miniaturist.

This is the first recording of "A Mass" since the Chandos release several years ago, and the only other still readily available. It has the added advantage of coming at budget price, and will hopefully encourage those who only know Delius through his orchestral miniatures (exquisite though they are) to explore other aspects of this multi-faceted composer. Nor does "budget price" mean "inferior". Technically, this is a fine recording, with beautiful balance, and all the performers (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Bach Choir under David Hill, and the four soloists - especially baritone Alan Opie)are at the top of their game. "A Mass of Life" is not easy listening, but does repay concentrated attention. As the work is sung in German, and the choral textures can be quite dense, it is advisable to refer throughout to the text provided in the liner notes which also comes with an English translation.

The "filler" on this 2-CD set is the Prelude and Idyll, composed in 1932, by which time Delius was blind and paralysed. The music is a reworking of passages from the little-known opera Margot la Rouge (1902), and was made possible with the help of his faithful amanuensis Eric Fenby (1906-97), and the poet Robert Nichols (1893-1944) who compiled the the text of the Idyll from the poetry of Walt Whitman. The setting, "Once I passed through a populous city", is usually performed separately from the Prelude, so here is a welcome opportunity to hear the two together, as (presumably) originally intended.
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on 29 May 2012
This is a very likeable and well recorded performance of the Mass of Life - excellent singing from the large choir and really beautiful playing from the orchestra - Alan Opie is quite outstanding amongst the soloists in his mammouth role in the work and is well supported by the other soloists, in particular Andrew Kennedy in the tenor role - the recording is full and spacious and captures the essence of the music very successfully - the balance is particularly good and at the price this is a real bargain. The notes by Lyndon Jenkins are very informative and add some interesting thoughts on this work. The perfomance is taken at a good pace by David Hill who keeps everything moving which will keep your attention - even if you are not a devoted Delian you will have your eyes opened to this wonderful composer's work by this new recording and hopefully you may want to investigate his music further (there is a lot more to Delius than the 1st Cuckoo). The Idyll performance is less successful than the Mass and does not match the Meredith Davis recording on EMI made many years ago - so one star removed - but superlatives for the Mass - buy and enjoy !
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on 7 June 2012
This version of A Mass of Life is surely as good as any. The soloists certainly sound impassioned, especially Andrew Kennedy near to the start, soaring over the Orchestra, and of course Alan Opie in his huge Role. The famale parts are also well taken, though to my ears Catharine Wyn-Rogers can occasionally sound a little raw. That said she makes sense of the text and weaves her way through the music with admirable energy.

So why not 5 stars? Well, maybe it's the download, but I don't think so. When listening through earphones (mine are of very high quality indeed and cope with even grander scale sound) I became aware of some distortion in the choral sound. The biggest climaxes just slightly overwhelm the microphones. I'll transfer to CD and listen on my main system shortly, and hope that this will hide the problem a little more, but I doubt that it will.

Buy with confidence, overall, though because the majority of it sounds really very beautiful. A particular nod of congratulations to the Horns at the start of Part II. These parts are high and exposed, yet they are played with gentle precision, allowing the sense of stillness and contemplation to dominate.

Excellent conducting by Hill and tremendously powerful choral singing make this a bargain indeed.
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on 14 July 2012
Also Sprach Zarathustra with knobs on. This is a wonderful CD set. I have not listened to the non-choral filler, but the Mass of Life is an extraordinary work.
As I write this review I am just back from the opening night of the 2012 BBC Proms which had "Sea Drift" and Elgar's Coronation Ode.
This reinforced my view - from the Mass of Life - that Delius, although only 18 years younger than Elgar, is a twentieth century composer (in a good way!) whereas Elgar remained locked in the Victorian era like a British version of César Franck. (Elgar and Franck both have quite a wonderful melodic gift, but everything is in some sense like wading though treacle).
I heartily recommend this Delius CD set. I always like the Bournemouth orchestra live or on record - and the Bach choir is FANTASTIC.
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on 4 September 2012
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.
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on 5 February 2013
When it comes to Delius' A Mass of Life recordings have been few and far between, yes there are the classic recordings, including a fine one from Beecham, but when it comes to the digital era we are restricted to only one other recording to choose from, that of Richard Hickox for Chandos, which also draws on the excellent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This is surprising when you consider that the Mass could be regarded as Delius' Gerontius, a true masterpiece of a composer at the height of his art!
This is no conventional Latin mass; the words are a setting of Friedrich Nietzsche's epic philosophical poem `Also Sprach Zarathustra', with its text clearly following the narrative of the poem, if rejecting the more polemic elements of Zarathustra's preaching. That being said, the text is clearly a celebration of life, if a more philosophical than religious one!
This work is as far removed from Delius' First Cuckoo as you can get, nearly a hundred minutes of intensely inspirational music for four soloists chorus and full orchestra. I have always held the opinion that Delius is best understood through his larger works than through his orchestral miniatures, and when you get a recording like this one it is clear to see that Delius deserves more acclaim than he gets.
To compare the recording with that of Hickox's wonderful recording is probably best, and while the overall timings of the work are virtually identical, there are time differences between the movements. For example, in In dein Auge schaute ict Jungst, the central movement and emotional heart of the first part, Hill takes 45 seconds longer than Hickox, giving the music a greater sense of development.
For Hill the soloists are at least as good as those for Hickox, although Alan Opie is more assured in the pivotal role of Zarathustra than Peter Coleman-Wright is on the Hickox recording. The soloists are supported by The Bach Choir on this recording who are on excellent form, their choral intonation is superb and can't be faulted.
As a filler we get the wonderful Prelude and Idyll (Once I pass'd through a populous city), a twenty minute work for Baritone, Soprano and Orchestra, this time to a text by another of Delius' favourite poets, Walt Whitman. This is another of my favourite Delius compositions, and I have fond memories of cycling to work from Southport to Liverpool whilst listening to this glorious music. This is a fine recording with Janice Watson and Alan Opie being well matched.
This recording is excellent, the equal, to the Hickox, and in some respects, the better! Whilst I would never be without the Hickox, I can see myself turning to this recording from now on, if only for the wonderful voice of Alan Opie. The only drawback being the rather sparse booklet notes, although you do get the full texts and translations. Highly recommended!
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on 15 November 2012
Beecham's interpretation has long been the only worthwhile one, and the sound quality is now pretty elderly. This is a combination of elegance and passion, and I thoroughly recommend it. A pity that Naxos couldn't stretch to a book of the words, as they are hard to followin the choral parts (nit the singers' fault. I had to go to the original poem and assemble Delius's libretto from them.
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I’m not especially familiar with the music of Delius, but somehow I knew that this work would appeal to me and I was right; I love it.

The main work on this two-CD set is his “A Mass of Life” or, as it more properly should be called, as it is sung in German, “Eine Messe des Lebens”. A long time in gestation (its first performance was in 1909, but sections from the work had been performed 10 years earlier), this shamefully neglected work was long championed by Sir Thomas Beecham, who brought the young Fischer-Dieskau over to sing the demanding baritone role. It was customary then to sing the work in William Wallace’s English translation (included in the excellent Naxos booklet), but it is here given in the original German, based on Nietzsche’s “Also sprach Zarathustra”. It is not a religious, but it is incredibly stirring in its fervour and passion.

The work is scored for four soloists and large choral and orchestral forces and the forces involved on this recording, the Bach Choir and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra do both their conductor, David Hill, and the composer proud.

The soloists all share Zarathustra’s words, but it is the baritone who embodies Zarathustra himself. Janice Watson, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Andrew Kennedy, the soprano, mezzo-soprano and tenor soloists respectively are all excellent, but the baritone, Alan Opie, is little short of phenomenal; already a veteran when this recording was made, he sings with formidable resonance, fervour and sensitivity.

A substantial “filler” is the composer’s “Prelude and Idyll”. The soloist are once again Watson and Opie and once again, they and the choral and orchestral forces are little short of superb. The origin of the work, which comes from the composer’s later years, is his long discarded opera “Margot la Rouge”, which I remember catching on Radio 3 some years ago. While not as memorable as the Mass, it is an important work, which needs rescuing from obscurity.
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on 17 August 2012
If you are a Delius lover, then this performance is for you. But, if you don't know Delius and have never had the opportunity to listen to his works, you may well find this recording long and tedious. This is a religious work and must be treated as such. Be warned! This sort of music is not for Classic FM fans (in the UK) or for Klassik Radio fans (in Germany, Austria and Switzerland). Be sure to listen to a few extracts before you buy. Having said that, this is a superb recording both technically and musically. Recording bought at Amazon.co.uk.
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on 15 March 2013
I really like this piece of Delius' work but this is a somewhat disappointing recording. The performance is good but the technical quality isn't so good.
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