Saturday, May 13, 2017

Frederick Delius - A Mass of Life (David Hill)


Composer: Frederick Delius

  1. A Mass of Life (First Part): I. 'O Du mein Wille!'
  2. A Mass of Life (First Part): II. 'Erhebt eure Herzen'
  3. A Mass of Life (First Part): III. 'In dein Auge schaute ich jüngst'
  4. A Mass of Life (First Part): IV. 'Wehe mir!'
  5. A Mass of Life (First Part): V. 'Nacht ist es'
  6. A Mass of Life (Second Part): Auf den Bergen (Orchestra)
  7. A Mass of Life (Second Part): I. 'Herauf! nun herauf'
  8. A Mass of Life (Second Part): II. 'Süße Leier!'
  1. A Mass of Life (Second Part): III. Lento (Orchestra) - La-la-la - Laßt vom Tanze nicht ab
  2. A Mass of Life (Second Part): IV. 'Heißer Mittag schläft'
  3. A Mass of Life (Second Part): V. 'Gottes Weh ist tiefer'
  4. A Mass of Life (Second Part): VI. 'Kommt! Laßt uns jetzo wandeln!'
  5. Prelude and Idyll: Prelude (Orchestra) -
  6. Prelude and Idyll: Once I pass'd through a populous city

Janice Watson, soprano
Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo-soprano
Andrew Kennedy, tenor
Alan Opie, baritone
The Bach Choir
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
David Hill, conductor

Date: 2012
Label: Naxos



Delius’s magnum opus from David Hill in Bournemouth

To witness a performance of Delius’s A Mass of Life, arguably his supreme creative achievement, is to look into the heart of the composer and his Nietzsche-inspired world. Moreover, this ravishing music, written between 1898 and 1905, represents Delius at the height of his powers, when musical ideas seemed to pour out of him at a time when he had finally learned to assimilate, in an entirely individual, not to say maverick manner, a confluence of modernist styles embracing Grieg, Wagner, Strauss, Charpentier and Debussy.

There is no doubt from the vivid opening choruses of Parts 1 and 2 of this recording (and what openings!) that the message of the work is a life-affirming one. There is a dynamic momentum to the tempi which perfectly evokes Zarathustra’s ruling passion, the Will of Man, and there is a richness to the orchestral sound which adds to the sense of muscularity. The chorus negotiate Delius’s often awkward vocal intervals with great skill and the intonation is virtually flawless. Just occasionally the sheer weight of the orchestral sound, which is quite forward on this recording (more so than Hickox), is apt to overwhelm the voices but this is a minor distraction.

Hill brings energy and élan to the third section, ‘In deine Auge’ (for me perhaps the most exhilarating section of Part 1), where the parallel with the end of Act 2 of Die Meistersinger is almost palpable and where the most unusual example of a Delius fugue (!) is given life, vigour and meaning.

Alan Opie, who has the lion’s share of the solo music in the work, is almost Wotan-like in his performances. From his first Nietzschean dance he is majestic and brings out of the score that vibrant, heady, Teutonic contemporaneity with which Delius had clearly become enthralled at this point in his career. Opie’s singing of what is effectively the role of Zarathustra has immense authority and his impressive range (up to high G) is ideal for Delius’s onerous vocal demands.

Andrew Kennedy, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Janice Watson also offer fine lyrical interpretations of their solo parts and the choral accompaniments are allowed to intermingle subtly as an extension of the orchestra. The BSO are on fine form too, and special mention needs to be made of the haunting horn-playing in the introduction to Part 2 (‘On the Mountains’), a sound which sums up so much of Delius’s nature music.

This is a must for any Delius Liebhaber and, with the added bonus of the late Prelude and Idyll, a marvellous starting point for anyone new to Delius’s unique but compelling art.

-- Jeremy DibbleGramophone

More reviews:


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.


David Hill (born on 13 May 1957 in Carlisle, Cumberland, England) is an English conductor and organist. Renowned for his fine musicianship, David Hill is widely respected as both a choral and orchestral conductor. He is the the 9th Musical Director of The BBC Singers (since 2007), and Musical Director of The Bach Choir (since 1998). Hill was also Associate Guest conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He has made more than 80 recordings, including many award-winners, can be found on the for Decca/Argo, Hyperion, Naxos and Virgin Classics labels.


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