The aching nostalgia that builds during Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet is closer in spirit to Coward's Brief Encounter than to Shakespearean musical tragedies by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev. While farmers war over territory, their lovelorn children sing to music that is so English, so gentle and so heavily weighted by melancholy, you carry it with you for days after listening. That's, of course, provided the performance is at least half decent.
Years ago Sir Thomas Beecham recorded Delius's Romeo for 78s, a soulful, chamber-like reading beautifully played, though even then rumour had it that the BBC broadcast performance of a week or so earlier was even better.
That broadcast has, at last, been released and though there are a few technical hiccups – the odd surface scuff and pitch anomaly – the intensity of Beecham's conducting is a wonder. The most striking difference is in the walk the lovers take to the "Paradise Garden" en route to their voluntary love-death. The 78 was deeply poetic, but here Beecham broadens the tempo, especially for the idyllic central section, before mounting emotions explode with audible shouts from the rostrum. The last scene is among the most devastating examples of Beecham's art on disc, even though accents are very cut-glass and a plummy BBC voice actually announces the lovers' walk to paradise – just in case you've forgotten where they're going!
The best of the singers are the plangent tenor René Soames and the baritone Gordon Clinton (both more compelling than on the records) and the fill-up is the first complete release of Beecham's 1934 Leeds Festival recording of Delius's Songs of Sunset.
You could say that early Frank Bridge displays a Delian brand of sensuality, especially in the tone poem Mid of the Night that ends the first volume of Chandos's much-needed survey of Bridge's orchestral works. Isabella (after Keats) advances on that early promise, adding a generous quota of memorable melody, but the real masterpieces are the rhapsody Enter Spring and the Two Poems for Orchestra. Bridge's mature music has a questing, almost mystical quality, a cross between Holst and Vaughan Williams, harmonically daring and flooded with the most amazing colours. Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales do a sterling job, if not quite eclipsing memories of Britten conducting Enter Spring (on BBC Legends).
Delius: 'A Village Romeo & Juliet'/'Songs of Sunset' – Soames, Clinton, RPO, Sir Thomas Beecham (SOMM-BEECHAM 12-2, two discs)
Bridge: Orchestral Works Vol 1 – BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Richard Hickox (Chandos CHAN 9950)Reuse content