DELIUS: Appalachia. The Song of the High Hills.
SCHUMANN: Manfred, Op. 115
WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde (an orchestral passion arranged by Henk de
Vlieger); Overtures to Das Liebesverbot and Die Feen
Two masterpieces of Delius are presented perfectly on this new Chandos SACD. Appalachia: An American Rhapsody is based on a song the composer heard sung by slaves in Danville, Virginia. He completed it in 1903 and it had its premiere, rather oddly, in Germany the following year. Appalachia is the old Indian name for North America, and this music suggests the tropical nature of swamps bordering on the Mississippi. Appalachia is a set of variations with an introduction and coda; at the conclusion of the work the baritone soloist sings the brief song that inspired the work. The male chorus doesn't have to do much in this score; they are busier in The Song of the High Hills although they have no words to sing. This music was inspired by the mountains of Norway; the composer wrote: "I have tried to express the joy and exhilaration one feels in the Mountains and also the loneliness and melancholy of the high solitudes and the grandeur of the wide far distances. The human voices represent man in Nature, an episode which becomes fainter and then disappears altogether." Excellent performances by Davis and his crew, and we have the usual Chandos high-quality sonics.
Most listeners are familiar with Schumann's Manfred Overture, Op. 115, but it isn't often one has the opportunity to hear the entire work, a huge "dramatic poem with music," his setting of Byron's Manfred. For years the complete work was best known from Sir Thomas Beecham's recording narrated in English issued in the U.S. on Columbia.. Even now there are few recordings, and this new one on Preiser is fine in all ways. Narration, almost continuous throughout the entire work, is in German. Fortunately Martin Schwab is not overly melodramatic— he is on stage most of the time. Except for the overture, Schumann's music is not his best. Most of it accompanies narration (in Beecham's recording the conductor included two brief orchestrations of short piano pieces). This new recording offers a cut-down version of much of the text, which most listeners will welcome. Excellent sound, although not very "surround," and unfortunately the text is supplied only in German.
In 1999 this site mentioned an RCA release of music from Tristan and Isolde adapted into a continuous symphonic work by Henk de Vlieger (REVIEW). Now this appears again, this time with Neemi Järvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, superbly played and recorded. Unfortunately, Järvi doesn't find much passion in this score and rushes through it—this is one of the fastest Liebestods ever recorded. Of far greater interest are the overtures to two of Wagner's earliest operas, Die Feen (1833 ) and Das Liebesverbot (1833-34). The latter sounds more like Offenbach or Auber, and both are given spirited readings. Excellent, rich sound although not particularly "surround."
R.E.B. (April 2011)