Delius: Appalachia

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Appalachia; The Song of the High Hills
PERFORMER: Olivia Robinson (soprano), Christopher Bowen (tenor), Andrew Rupp (baritone); BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Andrew Davis

Both these major works are panoramic depictions of landscapes Delius loved: one, of the rolling rivers and great swamps of the American South, with glimpses too of the gaiety of the towns; the other, the lofty heights of the Norwegian mountains. And both augment their large orchestral forces with voices: in Appalachia, which is loosely structured as a set of ‘Variations on an Old Slave Song’, these represent black workers singing, at first in the distance and then close by; in The Song of the High Hills, the voices suggest a mystical affinity between man and nature. 
Andrew Davis combines a sensitive feeling for tempo and shape with superfine detail of phrasing and balancing – perfectly supported by a recording which makes everything luminously clear within a spacious acoustic. The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays for its former chief conductor with precision and spirit, the solo voices make an excellent contribution, and the BBC Symphony Chorus achieves miracles of quiet singing and climactic exultation.
Both works have a distinguished history on disc, from Beecham’s pioneering accounts to Decca’s fine 1990s recording by Mackerras with Welsh National Opera forces. But I’ve heard nothing to beat these glorious new performances. Anthony Burton