- Idyll: Once I passed thro' a populous City, for soprano, baritone & orchestra, RT iii/10
- A Mass of Life (Eine Messe des Lebens), for soloists, chorus & orchestra, RT ii/4
Delius: A Mass of Life; Prelude and Idyllby David Hill
An adherent of Friedrich Nietzsche and an avowed skeptic of conventional religion, Frederick Delius was the last composer to be expected to compose anything resembling the Roman Catholic mass. However, "A Mass of Life" is more a secular oratorio than a mass, and the texts from Nietzsche's "Also sprach Zarathustra" firmly put this gigantic work in the Zeitgeist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ideas about the superman and the human will were common for the time, and the buoyant optimism that inspired this work had yet to be shattered by world wars and the other tragedies to come. Musically, this is a dramatically different style for Delius, rather similar in its ebullience and sweeping grandeur to Vaughan Williams' "A Sea Symphony" from the same decade. This performance by conductor David Hill, the Bach Choir, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is an important addition to the catalog, mainly because "A Mass of Life" is rarely performed, let alone recorded, and unless historical recordings by Thomas Beecham or Charles Groves are acceptable, this is one of a handful of modern, all-digital recordings available. The text is sung in the original German, rather than the English translation that was once favored, though the vast sea of voices that ebb and flow over the dense orchestral writing almost make following the words impractical. Any admirer of Delius should hear this composition at least once, and many fans will want to give this recording several hearings. The "Prelude and Idyll" that were adapted from Delius' opera, "Margot la Rouge," are pleasant filler for the second disc in the package.
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Performance CreditsDavid Hill Primary Artist
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An ambitious undertaking to celebrate the entirety of life characterizes the mind of Western society at the dawn of the 20th Century, and Frederick Delius has put it to music. This composition endeavors to include everything: emotion, discovery, energy, delicacy, sorrow, and salvation. While such work merits praise for the undertaking, the effect can lose the audience. Or perhaps the music itself is simply not memorable. The audience can be pictured expectantly hearing the opening of this work, enduring the second part, and then hoping that the Idyll will finally bring release. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Hill responds to every demand upon it. The soloists carry out their parts admirably, although the texture of the soprano reminds the listener of blurred watercolors, and the baritone becomes gritty from time to time. The credentials of the conductor, soloists, and Bach Choir suggest the highest level of quality, and yet the effect is bombastic, overwhelming, and wandering, lacking substance. This is neither a Mass nor about Life, but an ode to narcissism in a mélange of sound. A devotee of Nietzsche, Delius pays homage to the Übermensch and the optimism of the dawning 20th Century. But today that philosophy has paled, and the theme has faded in its appeal to audiences. This work seems to reflect the confusion and lack of direction which eventually became a mark of the 20th century.