Delius: American Masterworks

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Frederick Delius
LABELS: Danacord
ALBUM TITLE: Delius: American Masterworks
WORKS: Koanga – excerpt from Act II; Appalachia; Sea Drift
PERFORMER: Henriette Bonde-Hansen (soprano), Johan Reuter, Simon Duus (baritone); Aarhus Cathedral Choir; Aarhus Symphony Choir & Orchestra/Bo Holten


After visiting Denmark, Norway, England and France, Bo Holten’s tour of countries important to Delius has reached the USA. The young Yorkshireman managed an orange plantation in Florida and found lasting inspiration in the singing of his workmen. This is reflected in the opera Koanga (1895-97), set among slaves on an 18th-century plantation. Holten offers a continuous sequence from the end of Act II, including the original sung version of the well‑known dance La calinda: although slightly adapted, without the chorus, it’s a valuable glimpse of this rarely heard work.

The other items are more familiar: Appalachia (1902/03), ‘variations on an old slave song with final chorus’, and Sea Drift  (1903/04), a poignant Walt Whitman setting with solo baritone and chorus. Holten obtains some fine playing from the Aarhus orchestra, helped by a recording of exceptional clarity – useful when the coda of Appalachia culminates in what sounds like an Ivesian free-for-all. There’s some fine singing, too, from the stalwart Johan Reuter and the fresh-voiced Aarhus choirs, who contribute to a powerfully urgent climax in Sea Drift .

There are preferable versions of these two works: try, for example, Andrew Davis in Appalachia and Richard Hickox with Bryn Terfel in Sea Drift (both on Chandos). But considered as a whole, American Masterworks is imaginatively planned and well executed, and as recommendable as its predecessors.


Anthony Burton