Thursday, November 10, 2011

American Record Guide Reviews The Delius Songbook

217 Records is proud to support Stone Records' The Complete Delius Songbook - Volume 1.



American Record Guide
November / December 2011 Issue

Delius: Songs 1
Mark Stone, bar; Stephen Barlow, p
Stone 80062 – 79 minutes

At long last, here is a project to record all of the composer’s songs for voice and piano. It is to encompass two volumes. Stone’s own record company has already released some impressive recitals of music by George Butterworth, Ronald Corp., and others. This will be the first time all of Delius’s 61 surviving songs have been recorded.

While many of these songs appear in collections with female performers, Stone has convincingly argued that the tests are basically gender neutral, perhaps leaning more towards the male voice. Benjamin Luxon included 12 songs on his excellent Chandon recital (J/F 1989), and other male singers have included a few as well. Not to be forgotten are the recitals of Felicity, Lott, Ruth Golden, and Yvonne Kenny. While hardly as comprehensive, they are well worth having.

Stone has decided to sing all of these songs in English, including sever in new translation (including his own). Delius, as a cosmopolitan, was well versed in German, French, and the Scandinavian languages, and there are some who will lament the use of translations. Others will applaud the decision to stick with English. Although full texts and translations are supplied, Stone is a master of skillful diction, and the clarity of the recording assures that everything is clearly understood. Moreover, his pleasant voice is ideally suited to the music, and his interpretive and expressive skills, matched beautifully by pianist Stephen Barlow, open one’s ears to this treasure trove.

Delius as songwriter combines his unique harmonic and melodic language to shape his structures. With a few exceptions the songs are relatively short and never overstay their welcome. Sometimes, as in ‘Spring, the Sweet Spring’ a song can seem embarrassingly twee, but this is partly owing to the Thomas Nashe lyrics. Most of the time the songs are quite lovely and express emotions in a heartbreaking and subtle way. Since Delius loved mountains it is not surprising that ‘Over the Mountains High’ and ‘Mountain Life’ benefit particularly well from his ever-shifting harmonies. The three songs based on poems by Shelley are very dramatic and full of love’s yearning, with emotions laid bare. The texts range all over the place with six of the 27 in this volume by the Norwegian Bjornstjerne Bjornson.

Stone has supplied his own fascinating notes and perceptive comments on each son. Both the Delius and the John Ireland Trusts are to be thanked for their sponsorship of this important recording project. Given the many hours of immense pleasure I have derived from this well filled disc, I am eager to hear Volume 2.

~ BECKER