This is the second of three volumes in Naxos' series of Sir Thomas Beecham's first Delius recordings. (The first volume is Naxos Historical 8.110904.) Beecham conducted Delius' music throughout his career and made multiple recordings of several works. The stereo recordings remain in print, and some reviewers consider them not only to be Sir Thomas's final words on the subject, but also his best. Nevertheless, it is educational to go back to a time when hardly any of Delius' music was available for home listening. With these recordings, Beecham opened doors to this transcendental music for thousands of listeners. Today, the thousands have become millions; let us not underestimate the history behind these discs. They originally were issued on the Columbia label on 78-rpm discs, most of them in a "Delius Society" series. There were three volumes of Delius Society releases, each made up of seven discs. The complete contents of Volume 2 are preserved on this CD, with "The Walk to the Paradise Garden" thrown in as a lagniappe.
The latter work was recorded in 1927, and it is the most problematic of the selections, in terms of sound. The orchestra sounds distant (the work's climax opens up nicely, however), and despite CEDAR noise reduction (overseen by producer/transfer engineer David Lennick), the sound is bumpy and unsteady. It also lacks some upper frequency information, suggesting that the noise reduction might have been a little too liberally applied.
The rest of the recordings come from 1936. These were recorded in Columbia's Abbey Road studios with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Predictably, the sound is better, but not consistently so; more brightness is needed. Sea Drift is the major work here. Remarkably, Beecham tried recording it several years earlier (with baritone Dennis Noble) but he did not approve the results. John Brownlee sings the music full-throatedly; I appreciate his unwillingness to milk Delius' music and Walt Whitman's text for pathos, but there are more sensitive versions than this. About the remaining performances on this CD it is difficult to have any serious reservations. Beecham's grasp of form and color is superb, and while he neglects no nuance nor fine detail, his conducting is neither fussy nor effete. Delius might have painted in watercolors, but he was all man.
Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle