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“Hassan: Complete incidental music”
Frederick Delius (contrib. Percy Grainger: “General Dance”, Act II, Scene I): Hassan, RT I/9

Zeb Soanes (narrator, Ishak), Ruairi Bowen (tenor), Meurig Bowen (linking narration), Britten Sinfonia Voices, Eamonn Dougan (chorusmaster), Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Gould (concertmaster), Jamie Phillips (conductor)
Live recording: Saffron Hall, Walden, Essex, England (February 11, 2023) – 80’25
Chandos CHAN 20296 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English, German and French

Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory.
Frederick Delius

There can be no superficial view of Delius’s music: either one feels it in the very depths of one’s being, or not at all.
Philip Heseltine

In 1884 Frederick Delius was sent to Solano Grove, Florida to manage his father’s plantation, in the hopes that Frederick would take over the mercantile business. Not only disinterested in the 120‑acre plantation, it drew Delius deeper into influences of African-American culture and music (none of his family showed interest in music). Two years later, he returned to Germany to begin further training which also acted as a catalyst to launch his career in his carefully-guided impressionistic discernment.

The Bradford-born Englishman was influenced by Grieg and Wagner, though all his music has a sense of reverential solitude and polite independence. Likely familiar to listeners are his Florida Suite (1887 – early work) and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1911‑1912 – mature work). The latter is where the incidental music to Hassan lands. Here, Chandos captures the full-score, including narration by raconteur extraordinaire Zeb Soanes, in what has to be a treasure to behold and well worth the listen.

James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915), British novelist, penned Hassan, also known as The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkind (1913). Meurig Bowen provides linking narration to music, in a structure quite pithy and striking as that of Annie Proulx: dense, colorful, imaginative and informative. At the onset, undoubtedly, a Middle-Eastern élan sparks intrigue with oboe introduction...the tone is set, yet not stereotypically overwrought. Conductor Jamie Phillips saddles the listener into fluidly luscious exotica and mystique. Hassan’s tempo moves briskly, devoid of clichéd dawdling: gently incessant pacing and lightly iced friction is the esprit de corps. Frequently pulled from this full score to land on other vinyls/CDs, both the “Interlude” (track 3) and motif‑driven “Serenade” (track 6) can attest to the aforementioned. Splendid.

Verse and notes occasionally commingle such as in “Song of Ishak”. Anchored by Delius’ golden delirium gives way to dreamy and suavely amorous anticipations that’s masterfully vocalized by M. Soanes...a truly visceral and captivating storyteller. Slowly soaring into poetic optimism, it’s as if it parallels reflections of the 1923 A Song Before Sunrise. Ebony might eventually catches up to the rising vermillion spectrums of daybreak. This is one point where Frederick Delius’ innocence and sensitivity beautifully apex.

Musical compartments, while deftly managed and laced by majestic enchantment, pay earlier homage to late Romantic and Second Viennese Schools: the “Divertissement” tunes into Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg of 1921 while the outreaches of the “General Dance” (Act II) closely pattern those notes uncovered inside Carmen’s “Ecoute, compagnon, écoute” (1875). This selection was contributed by long‑time friend, Percy Grainger.

In Act III, temptation envelopes Flecker’s storyline. Delius’ music is poetically iridescent and intoxicating...distantly loving and alluring, we return to the unveiling of ethereal aura and palatial splendor. Delius frequents earlier ‘mindsets’, specifically pointing to an abbreviation of the “Interlude” (Track 3) in Act III. Beautifully fleeting.

Moderato is the governing document when it comes to the painting of the Act III’s melisma “Prelude”. Shy of tedium, rather, Delius economically washes the setting with kaleidoscopic color. Conversely, the music soon reaches ominous proportions.

Delius sparingly and intelligently used varying forms of unusual percussive instrumentation. Ahead of the choral outreach, “The Great Hall of the Palace – Chorus of Soldiers”, the music is prodded by Hungarian paprika‑esque tonality. M. Flecker’s writing, however, ultimately hits the reader with a poison dart: the unfortunate demise of two lovers is exacted, and Frederick Delius alarms the listener’s inner sanctum of emotional upheaval. The “Closing Scene”, both heartbreaking and shattering, will not leave a dry eye in the audience...but that’s what Delius wanted to obtain all along: “Magical music never leaves the memory”. The journey is poignantly structured...that’s the power of Delius’ highly evincing music.

It’s important to note how richly masterful the Britten Sinfonia voices subtly release their perfumed outreaches following the orchestra’s tender entrées. Herein lies superb dialogue and balance.

A convergence of several artistic disciplines graces this Chandos recording. We are on the receiving end of impressive brilliance by many talented people. If one has never reached into the world of Frederick Delius, perhaps this is a great launch pad. Penetrating and highly recommended.

Christie Grimstad




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