Delius: Appalachia • Sea Drift
Delius’s early self-discovery as a composer dated from his time as manager of orange plantation in 1880s Florida; so it’s appropriate that his 150th anniversary year should bring about this recording, by local forces, of his two major choral works with an American setting. This fine orchestra has a superb violinist leader (crucial in Sea Drift) plus serious class in every department, the brass in particular. The choral singing, too, is exemplary in its firm-toned accuracy: Delius’s tricky chromatic demands are sailed through with ease. Stefan Sanderling’s approach to both works is at once more tight-reined and more sweeping than the familiar Beecham/Groves/Hickox way: the difficult stop-start design of Appalachia’s long variation-sequence here hangs together unerringly, with plenty of excitement in the big moments, poignant loveliness in the quiet ones, and deft handling of the sometimes extreme contrasts between them. In Sea Drift the recorded balance between the orchestra and an over-prominent choir is a technical miscue, given Delius’s insistent blending of the one into the other. Fortunately this situation doesn’t undercut the surging emotional charge of a performance that reaches a thrilling and dangerous level of intensity. And while Leon Williams is not the most lustrous-toned baritone you’ll ever hear, the firepower and up-front honesty of his singing do real justice to a great solo part.