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Friday, May 12, 2017

Frederick Delius - Florida Suite; North Country Sketches (Vernon Handley)


Composer: Frederick Delius
  1. Florida Suite: I. Daybreak - Dance
  2. Florida Suite: II. By the River
  3. Florida Suite: III. Sunset - Near the Plantation
  4. Florida Suite: IV. At Night
  5. North Country Sketches: I. Autumn
  6. North Country Sketches: II. Winter Landscape
  7. North Country Sketches: III. Dance
  8. North Country Sketches: IV. The March of Spring
  9. On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring
  10. Air and Dance

Ulster Orchestra (1-8)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (9, 10)
Vernon Handley, conductor

Date: 1983 (9, 10) 1985
Label: Chandos



This is a glorious record. Chandos have provided a wonderful quality of sound; it is warm, atmospheric and totally natural, yet it permits the smallest detail to register clearly. There's no doubt that the engineers were aided by Vernon Handley's evident skill in achieving an ideal balance and clarity in the orchestral textures, even during the climaxes of the North Country Sketches, where care is needed to avoid a congested sound. And they were helped too by the playing of the Ulster Orchestra, which is outstanding in its refinement and tonal beauty. This ensemble goes from strenght to strength.

The Florida Suite is an early work. Few elements of Delius's mature style are yet evident, but the scoring is skilful and attractive and there are plenty of good tunes. Handley watches carefully over what seems to me to be an ideal performance, letting the music unfold easily and naturally so that its charm and warmth flower as if under a warm sun. With the use of DMM technique the 37-minute-long performance is comfortably accommodated on one side. On his 1956 HMV recording (EX290323-3, 6/85) Beecham has revised and edited the score; he nudges and points the music in an inimitable fashion, of course, but his sophisticated approach for once tends to bear down on the music's uncomplicated sweetness.

In the much later North Country Sketches Delius recalls contrasted youthful emotions inspired in him by the Yorkshire countryside through the changing seasons. It is a composition of extraordinary originality and power and deserves to be much better known. Even today it would be foolish to consider a new version of this work without reference to its first recording made in 1949 by Beecham (CBS 61354, 5/73—nla), whose genius for evoking a kaleidoscope of changing moods shines through a dull sound. Sir Charles Groves (HMV) follows the Beecham tradition, but he lacks the older conductor's magical phrasing and his intoxicating impetuosity in the climaxes. It's a good, worthy performance, well recorded, but nothing more. Handley departs from the Beecham tradition. His general approach is broader and more objective: he is acutely sensitive to detail and he understands the ebb and flow of the musical argument to perfection. Occasionally there seems a slight lack of momentum in the more energetic passages, but this is the only criticism I would offer of a performance which I find deeply satisfying.

-- Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: **** / SOUND: *****


Frederick Delius (29 January 1862 – 10 June 1934) was an English composer who forged a unique version of the Impressionist musical language of the early twentieth century. The lyricism in Delius's early compositions reflected the music he had heard in America and the influences of European composers such as Edvard Grieg and Richard Wagner. As his skills matured, he developed a style uniquely his own, characterised by his individual orchestration and his uses of chromatic harmony. After WWII, Delius' fame began to spread, due in large part to the efforts of Thomas Beecham, who championed Delius' music.


Vernon Handley (11 November 1930 – 10 September 2008) was a British conductor, known in particular for his support of British composers. Handley is much revered for his enthusiastic and untiring championship of British music, including many lesser known, unfashionable or relatively neglected composers whose artistic reputations and popularity he often helped to revive. He is said to have recorded as many as a hundred premières of British works, including highly successful series on labels such as Hyperion, Chandos, EMI and Conifer.


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