WORKS: A Shropshire Lad; Two English Idylls; The Banks of Green Willow, Irmelin Prelude; The Walk to the Paradise Garden; Brigg Fair, Brigg Fair (plus original folksong recording)
PERFORMER: James Gilchrist (tenor), Joseph Taylor (singer); Hallé Orchestra & Choir/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: CD HLL 7503
As I write, in the midst of an early August heatwave, this collection of folk-inspired music by George Butterworth and Frederick Delius comes into its own. But it’s more than merely mood music. There’s real substance in the works of George Butterworth, a strength and originality so tragically cut short by the battlefields of World War I.
The Hallé was born to play this music and Mark Elder draws out all the colour in Butterworth’s orchestration. The tone poem adjunct to his Housman settings, A Shropshire Lad, has a symphonic breadth – it’s perceived as a work of drama more than mere picturesque English Romanticism.
Delius is represented by some of his most characteristic music: the Prelude he belatedly extracted from his early opera Irmelin, Beecham’s adaptation of ‘The Walk to the Paradise Garden’ from A Village Romeo and Juliet and the ‘English Rhapsody’ Brigg Fair. Here the competition on disc is keener, with such figures as Beecham (EMI), Handley (CfP) and Barbirolli (also with the Hallé, on EMI) to contend with. But Elder is every bit their equal, giving Delius’s airy textures room to breathe and revealing that it’s not all laid-back languor by bringing out the rhythmic pointedness and momentum of the music.
There are a couple of appropriate pendants in the arrangement for tenor and choir of the Lincolnshire folk song ‘Brigg Fair’ by Percy Grainger, who originally discovered it, and a brief 1908 recording of the man he first heard sing it, Joseph Taylor. Whatever time of year you listen to this beautifully recorded disc, it will always remind you of summer. Matthew Rye