Sir Thomas Beecham was the first great Delius conductor on records. His stereo recordings for EMI remain available (at full price, however, which seems mean), and many of his older recordings of Delius' music go in and out of the catalogue – but remain mostly in, in one form or another. This Naxos CD (and its follow-up: Naxos Historical 8.110905) is of great, well… historical value, and both the music and the performances make it easy to enjoy this CD, as long as one can tolerate the faded sound. These recordings originally were issued on the Columbia label on 78-rpm discs, most of them in a "Delius Society" series, and Delius connoisseurs have been in love with them ever since.
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (recorded in December 1927) is done with unsurpassed tenderness, and yet Beecham never allows this pastoral work to become passive. Its companion piece, Summer Night on the River, was recorded the following July. Here, it is lit like a painting by James McNeill Whistler – dark half-tones and occasional glints of striking light. This is Delius at his most warm and impressionistic.
The rest of the selections on this CD were recorded in London in 1934, mostly in London's Abbey Road studios. The young Walter Legge was the producer for these recording sessions. Eventyr, as its subtitle suggests, requires a conductor for whom storytelling comes naturally. Beecham is very convincing in this work, and his firm sense of line prevents the rhapsodic Eventyr from meandering. The scene from Koanga is tender and rapturous (but not assisted by the pallid choral contribution), and the two short fragments of incidental music from Hassan are unusual bits of English exoticism that are delicately romanced by the conductor. Paris is a masterpiece of tone-painting. Again, Delius seems to favor the subtle shades of night to the bright colors of the day, and Beecham gives it his dedicated advocacy – this actually was the first recording to be made in the "Delius Society" series. I was struck by how much a section after the 12-minute mark anticipated Bernard Herrmann's score to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
At least one publication has complained about how unsatisfactory these transfers are beside earlier LP versions of the same recordings. I don't have the World Record Club LPs to compare this Naxos issue to, but I heard nothing on this CD that made me feel cheated, and I am a frequent listener to recordings of this vintage. If anything, the traces of groove noise and side-changes are comforting – they suggest that the original shellac discs were not over-processed in the preparation of this CD. The transfers are by David Lennick.
Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle