Of the works performed here by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the prominent Delius interpreter Sir Andrew Davis, the first three (Paris, the Piano Concerto, and Idylle de printemps) offer a fascinating insight into the early years of the development of Delius as a composer, when he was slowly and painstakingly honing his craft, and assuming the characteristic personal voice that is evident in more mature works such as Brigg Fair.
Paris, sub-titled ‘The Song of a Great City’, is strongly inspired by the composer’s many years of living and working in Paris. With large-scale orchestral forces, Delius paints opulent pictures of a city that he obviously loved. The slow opening portrays the still darkness falling over Paris; then the music changes pace and takes us through the teeming and intoxicating nightlife of the city, with impressions of exuberant dance music coming from the many cafés and music-halls. The opening material returns, culminating in the sounds of the awakening streets.
Until recently Delius’s Piano Concerto has been know exclusively in its final, one-movement form, which was first performed in London in 1907. The version recorded here, however, represents the composer’s earlier thoughts, from 1897. Performed by Howard Shelley, the work is brimming with full-bodied romanticism while showing the influences of Grieg and Liszt throughout.
The airy mood of Idylle de printemps points to later depictions of nature in Delius’s music, as in Brigg Fair, which Delius categorised as ‘An English Rhapsody’. Cecil Gray, the Scottish music critic and composer, described the opening of Brigg Fair as ‘evoking the atmosphere of an early summer morning in the English countryside’. The work is based on a folk-tune which came to light in a competition instigated by Percy Grainger in 1905 to find ‘the best unpublished old Lincolnshire folk song or plough song’. Grainger was immediately taken with the folk-tune, and having arranged it himself for solo tenor and chorus, he approached Delius to write orchestral variations on it – urging him on as the only composer worthy of the task. Delius was soon persuaded, and Brigg Fair became one of his best-loved works.