Delius: Life’s Dance

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Delius
LABELS: Dutton
WORKS: Life’s Dance; Irmelin Suite (arr. Beecham); Poem of Life and Love; A Village Romeo and Juliet Suite (arr. D Matthews)
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7264

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The title, Poem of Life and Love, is familiar to anyone who knows Eric Fenby’s account of his years as the elderly Delius’s amanuensis: it’s the work that Delius had put aside when afflicted by blindness and failing health, and Fenby quarried to create the orchestral miniature A Song of Summer. But the original, published in a reconstructed version in 1997, is little known, and it has never before been recorded. It proves to be a big-boned, 17-minute piece of strong contrasts, with, unusually for Delius, the outlines of a Straussian symphonic poem. It stands up well next to the earlier, twice-revised Life’s Dance, an essay in muscular dance rhythms with dreamily lyrical interludes.

These two concert works are combined here with two operatic suites: Sir Thomas Beecham’s selection from Act II of the early fairy-tale opera Irmelin, which has Wagnerian touches but plenty that sounds authentically Delian; and David Matthews’s revised version of his suite from Delius’s operatic masterpiece A Village Romeo and Juliet, including the vivid fairground scene as well as some achingly beautiful love music and the ecstatic final Liebestod.

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With an old Delius hand in David Lloyd-Jones at the helm, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s performances are assured and thoroughly idiomatic – though the recording sounds a little congested, with rather distant woodwind. There’s an equally fine and more spaciously recorded Life’s Dance on Bo Holten’s Da Capo disc of Delius’s ‘Danish Masterworks’. But the fascinating programme of this Dutton collection will commend it to all Delius enthusiasts.
Anthony Burton