Delius Well Played, Well Conducted, Not So Well Sung

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

It’s good to see Naxos dedicating some capital to the music of Delius with forces that aren’t the usual English ones. The Florida Orchestra under Stefan Sanderling plays this music quite idiomatically. Recording them in Florida makes a certain sense: the works themselves were either inspired by the composer’s time there or by the American poetry of Walt Whitman. Appalachia is a tough piece to bring off, a series of episodic variations culminating in a final chorus. Typically, most of these variations are dreamy and slow, and Sanderling deserves credit for catching the music’s flow quite well. The passages for wordless chorus are particularly evocative. The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay also sings impressively, both here and in Sea Drift.

Unfortunately, this latter work suffers from an inadequate soloist. Baritone Leon Williams offers fine diction and a sensitive response to the text, but his voice has a distinct wobble that causes particular problems in this highly chromatic music. There are times when it’s difficult to tell exactly what pitch he is singing—and it’s a very lengthy and taxing part. A pity, really, because he manages to be quite moving in his final solo (“O darkness! O in vain!”), and absent these technical issues this would be a highly competitive performance. Recommend for Appalachia, then, a performance as good as any, and very well recorded—but Sea Drift is a problem.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Both Works: Mackerras (Decca)

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    Appalachia; Sea Drift

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