The Piano Concerto is among the most rarely-heard of Delius’s major works, especially in its original three-movement version rather than the later single-movement guise. This isn’t quite that version’s premiere recording – Hyperion issued a fine account by Piers Lane, coupled with works by John Ireland, back in 2005 – but Howard Shelley is in some ways an even more responsive and eloquent soloist, bringing out the work’s close kinship to the Grieg Concerto and making the best possible case for the heroic rhetoric of the finale that Delius later (and probably rightly) suppressed. Delius’s piano writing isn’t that of a natural virtuoso, but here Shelley transforms it with some really sensitive phrasing and an ability to make the patterns of the figuration sound idiomatic.
It’s also sensible to present the Concerto in the context of a clutch of works showing Delius gradually achieving individuality and mastery. Sir Andrew Davis proves himself an instinctive Delian in the way he delineates the shifting moods and colours of Paris and Brigg Fair: these must be among the best current accounts of both works.
His Paris in particular captures the chiaroscuro, the play of bright against sombre colours and of rhythm against rhythm, that is at the heart of this work that brings Delius closest to his friends among the Impressionist painters. By contrast Davis handles another extreme rarity, the 1889 ‘morceau symphonique’ Idylle de printemps – which was never performed at all until 1985 – with sympathy and restraint, bringing out the best in this heavily Grieg-indebted but touchingly attractive early effort.
There’s splendid playing throughout from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.