You know, it takes guts to try to record something where your competition includes Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir John Barbirolli. In fact, the direct comparison (at least with what I have in my collection) is only with Beecham and the first two pieces on this Naxos CD. Still, there is the spirit of Barbirolli lingering. Well, in one sense there is no comparison. In the two items where duplication exists, Beecham uses his own editions and revisions and apparently Lloyd-Jones does not. At least there is no such reference to Beecham in the insert notes and the music sounds significantly different. All said and done, this Naxos disc is an absolute delight and meets the competition just fine, thank you.
If you are not familiar with the music of Delius, this disc provides an excellent and inexpensive way to remedy that. Delius' music is genial, pleasant listening. There is nothing of the existential pondering of a Mahler here, nor the human suffering felt in Shostakovich. While Delius did write some longer pieces, such as his A Mass of Life, he is mainly known for miniatures like the pleasant pieces heard here. His music reminds me of a pleasant stroll on a sunny, spring day. This is not to say the music lacks substance, pleasantness is not necessarily simplistic. You will hear countless, lovely details that will stimulate the grey matter just fine.
Now, let me get this out-of-the-way immediately. I know that there are people who, after reading this, will attempt to have me tried as a warlock, will attempt to have me burned at the stake, but here it is. I prefer Lloyd-Jones recording of these works over everyone, even Beecham. (That whoosh you heard was my head diving into the trench hole at the sound of incoming.)
Now to specifics. First of all, the difference between the Lloyd-Jones recordings and Beecham's is interesting and extensive. I will focus on The Florida Suite. Beecham is over a minute faster in the first movement. I do not have a score to consult, but you can hear that some music has either been added to the Naxos or was deleted from the Beecham. So, the time difference is not merely one of tempo. That said, the Lloyd-Jones is a more languid performance. I have fallen in love with this performance as early as 2:00 into it.
The first movement of the Florida Suite has a melody which first appears about 3:00 played by the oboe over the strings. This melody has echoed through me many times the past few days. I find myself humming it as I walk to work. In the Beecham recording this melody is there but buried within the orchestral textures, making less an impact….and man, what an impact!! It returns about 5:00 into things, this time on flutes (yes, plural) hovering over the strings. This is some of the most exquisite music, playing and recording that I have ever heard. In fact, trying to find the right word to express the feelings this recording brings the one that best fit was "exquisite". This same sense of a magical place full of faeries and hobbits inhabits the whole of the Florida Suite.
The third movement, Sunset - Near the Plantation, has a moment, around 3'40" into it, where there is a crescendo of brass, drums, cymbals and strings that is just damn fun to listen to. Here, again, the digital recording and balance decisions by Maestro Lloyd-Jones produce a riveting performance. It sounds like everyone is just plain having a good time. Then there's that flute again, scurrying about like a firefly. In fact, I think I've fallen in love with the flutist:-)
You know, there's some music that is what is called "accessible". To me this means that you can appreciate it while doing other things, like housework. If sit down and really listen, it pays even more rewards. This recording of Delius' works almost demands that you pay attention to it even when you are also trying to concentrate on other, trivial matters.
I don't know how to tell you what a joy this disc was to review. One point you may find amusing, I was listening to this music in my writing room (the dinning room in my house). My daughter's pet bird is in the cage behind me. Whenever the flute would pipe in the bird would, too. I kept muttering, "You know, bird, I could set you free." Anyway, this is one of the best recordings I have heard in 1997 and may well be among the top ten of the year for me. Then, again, I am expecting more Martinů from Naxos….
Copyright © 1997, Robert Stumpf II