At the risk of sounding like a broken record myself, I have to report once again that a slight edge has been taken off a very favourable review by the decision of Halle Records to use recordings from the Bridgewater Hall.
It's a perfectly understandable choice I know, given today's economic climate and the attendant financial problems in making records. Moreover at least as far as "Sea Drift" is concerned, given Delius' slower paced compositional style, the lack of clarity is not so problematic; indeed it can add atmosphere. But compare Andrew Keener & Simon Eadon's efforts in BBC Mediacity (for Cynara), and noticeably more "snaps into place", without becoming arid or sterile.
Sir Mark meanwhile has truly taken up the baton from his predecessor in Manchester, Sir John Barbirolli, who loved Delius' music, yet he has enough perception not to "over-love" it. It maintains its integrity and doesn't become a wallow. Roderick Williams (who has impressed me in just about everything I've heard him do - especially in the British repertoire), is very fine. He manages to point up the agony, and the resignation, of the he-bird contemplating his loss, without over-egging the pudding. Meanwhile the boy observer looks on, and lessons are absorbed.
Cynara meanwhile dates from Delius' late period; by now infirm and paralysed a batch of wonderful music was bought into the world with fellow Yorkshireman Eric Fenby, the composer's amanuensis, acting as "midwife" to a clutch of compositions. Once again the settings of Dowson are beautiful, and Roderick Williams (without choral support this time) acquits himself splendidly.
The Hymn of Jesus is top notch Holst too, but it was here the reverberence of the recording became more of a problem for me, with lines and textures blurred. But don't put off hearing this !! its a terrific work......especially if all you know of Holst is the Planets.
So I'm really reluctant to give this anything less than 5 stars, as I enjoyed it so much....but in all conscience I had to report how I feel about the Bridgewater sound - at least as represented here.
Holst's Hymn of Jesus, despite being acknowledged as one of his greatest masterpieces, has become a comparative rarity on disc, and was really in need of an outstanding recorded performance to bring it into prominence. And that is what it has received here; the Hallé Choir sings with great imagination and rhythmic precision, while the orchestra colours the music superbly. Above all, Sir Mark Elder has the timing of the work to perfection, and guides his forces through with exactly the combination of mystery and momentum that characterises the piece. The text is based on the apocryphal Acts of St. John, which postulate the heretical teaching of Gnosticism, expressed in the phrase `Divine grace is dancing'. Holst finds the right musical language to match the words; mystical in its use of two ancient plainchants, Vexilla Regis and Pange lingua - both heard in the introduction - and powerful rhythmic drive in the exciting 5/4 section. The mention of that time-signature reminds me that this work follows immediately on The Planets in Holst's output, and has many characteristics in common; the irregular rhythmic patterns found in Mars, the tick-tocking ostinati of both Venus and Saturn; the remoteness of Neptune, and so forth. I should mention too the wonderful contributions of the Hallé Youth Choir, who supply the music's radiant halo in their `Amens', as well as the first appearance of the Vexilla Regis plainsong. And the main Hallé Choir are magnificent, with terrific weight and precision for the great utterances of `Glory to Thee', but also a truly magical hushed pianissimo for `Behold in me a couch; rest on me'. At the end, the burst of applause comes as a shock - hard to believe that such an immaculate performance could be a live rather than a studio one. Delius' word setting is for me the least favourite aspect of his art. The inherently shape-shifting nature of his melodies and harmonies can make the vocal line seem stilted, awkward even. Nevertheless, Sea Drift is an undeniably beautiful piece, and when it is done like this, with such red-blooded passion from both the Hallé Choir and the excellent soloist Roderick Williams, it is a powerful experience. The choir, it should be said, is not on quite such good form as for The Hymn of Jesus (recorded a year later). There are one or two ragged entries and patches of slightly suspect tuning. But they completely get away with it because of the sheer sense of commitment in their singing. Cynara is an interesting work, not often heard. It is for baritone and orchestra, and is a setting of a poem by Ernest Dowson; a love-poem, which refers to the Odes of the ancient Roman poet Horace. It shares this with Dowson's most famous poem, whose most celebrated lines are `They are not long, the days of wine and roses'; an aching sense of regret, which of course makes it perfect for Delius. His music evokes that emotion more potently than any other I know; that gives the piece its emotive force, but it's the repetition in the words of the four stanzas that supplies a sense of structure and direction which we sometimes miss in Delius' vocal works. The baritone Roderick Williams is simply outstanding; firm in tone, true in intonation, but sensitive to the intensity of the text. This is an outstanding and memorable CD, bringing together three masterpieces of English music which are all less well-known than they fully deserve to be.
The Hallé Orchestra and Chorus under the directorship of Sir Mark Elder are on a roll at the present time. Having just overwhelmingly won the Gramophone magazine's Annual Award for Best Choral recording with their CD of Elger's lesser known oratorio, 'The Apostles', they are out to repeat this success with another fine choral recording.
This latest CD features Holst's choral masterpiece, the 'Hymn of Jesus'and two works by Frederick Delius, 'Sea Drift' for baritone, chorus and orchestra and his little known 'Cynara' for baritone and orchestra. Holst's 'Hymn' opens with a haunting prelude played by trombones and cor anglais based on the plainsong melody, Pange Lingua, leading to Vexilla Regis, played on the organ. The Hymn itself follows with full double chorus which creates a sound filled with tension and drama. This is beautifully recorded and every detail of voices and instruments are remarkably clear within a huge vista of aural magnificence.
Roderick Williams is the featured soloist in the Delius works that follow. His rich, warm chest voice is ideal for these pieces and he is again superbly recorded. 'Sea Drift' is based on Walt Whitman's poem, 'Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking' and is a wonderful work and rightfully regarded as one of Delius' best compositions. The work flows and Delius described it to his amamuensis, Eric Fenby thus: 'the shape of it was taken out of my hands as I worked and was bred easily and efortlessly of the nature and sequence of my particular musical ideas and the nature and sequence of the particular poetical ideas of Walt Whitman that appealed to me.'
'Cynara' was the mistress of the poet, Horace in classical literature. Delius' work is based on a poem by Ernest Dowson. Again, Roderick Williams is in fine voice and sings the verses with feeling, warmth and great beauty, ably accompanied by the Hallé under Mark Elder. 'Cynara' was dedicated to the memory of English composer, Peter Warlock.
The Hymn of Jesus was started before Holst went off to war and completed on his return in 1919. You can tell easily enough that this is from the same composer as The Planets. Delius's Sea Drift sets a poem by Walt Whitman about two seabirds and the yearning of the male bird for his lost mate. Cynara is also about loss and her lasting unshakable impression. The performances from 2011 and 2012 and recorded live, although apart from the applause you would never know. Superb performances by the Halle orchestra and choir as well as baritone Roderick Williams. A lovely disc of English choral music.
What an interesting CD this is. Again this is a live Hallé recording, which brings us the excitement of being in the hall with the lucky folk who heard the performances by the Hallé Orchestra and Choir and the Hallé Youth Choir.
I hadn't heard the first Holst work "The Hymn of Jesus' or the second Delius work, 'Cynara,'featured on this CD, so it has been an adventure for me to listen to those. Also on this recording is 'Sea Drift' by Delius, which I had heard before, with Roderick Williams in the solo rôle.
Here are two much-loved composers in slightly different "clothes" from the more familiar compositions. The performances are wonderful, as you would expect from an orchestra and choirs conducted by Sir Mark Elder.