- A Song of the High Hills, for wordless chorus & orchestra, RT ii/6
- Appalachia (Variations on an old slave song), for baritone, chorus & orchestra, RT ii/2
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This release offers a pair of fairly early Delius works; they may not be instantly appealing to those making a start with this idiosyncratic English impressionist, but confirmed fans will love them. The roots of Frederick Delius' "Appalachia" lay in his experiences as an orange plantation manager in Florida in the late 1880s, where he heard the singing of African-American laborers and, according to his own testimony, first began to think about becoming a composer. The work is subtitled "Variations on an Old Slave Song with Final Chorus for baritone, chorus, and orchestra," and everything about it is intriguingly confused. Florida is not part of Appalachia. Nor is the Mississippi River delta, which Delius claimed was the inspiration for the work, but which he apparently never saw. To top it off, the "old slave song" is obscure; Delius, who had firsthand experience of African-American music, may indeed have heard it somewhere, but the text doesn't appear anywhere in databases of spiritual texts, and apparently no one has discovered the source. The melody, uncharacteristically simple for a spiritual, is stated plainly after a two-part introduction, and then follows a set of variations of all possible shapes and sizes, culminating in a choral finale. The finale gives the advertised baritone soloist precious little to do; he gets to sing just a few bars after cooling his heels on-stage for half an hour. And it introduces the text of the song, which with its "sold down the river" images sounds a bit out of place in the mouths of a substantial English chorus. The BBC Symphony Chorus under Andrew Davis does its best with this, and in general the level of orchestral detail, the heart and soul of a Delius performance, is impressive here. "The Song of the High Hills" expands on the wordless chorus idea that is introduced in "Appalachia," and technically it's perhaps a more accomplished work. "Appalachia," however, truly announced Delius as an original, and it's the kind of piece you'll either love or hate depending on your attitude toward the composer's output in general. In any case, it's not a terribly common work on CD, and Davis deserves thanks for its resurrection here.