Delius Choral Works
This new Sea Drift makes amends for the deletion of Hickox's previous 1980 recording (on a Decca/London CD, 7/81; the cassette is still available). More than that, I'd say unequivocally that Hickox has now given us the finest recorded post-Beecham Sea Drift. Hickox's earlier account suggested a reappraisal: with performances of the work lasting, generally, between 23 and 25 minutes, his was just over 27; and some may have found one or two passages a little lugubrious—from fig. 9, for example: ''And thenceforward all summer''. The new recording is a few seconds under 26 minutes, and that passage is not the only one to flow more freely. As before, the shaping of the opening falling woodwind figures at a slow tempo more than usually (and very beautifully) portends the sad turn of events; and the climax after fig. 17 (''you must know who I am, my love'') is broad and superbly co-ordinated. The slowings and shadings remain similar, but are handled with a more sure control: if for no other reason, you should buy the disc just to hear the way Hickox and Terfel ease into ''wafting my hair'' at fig. 14 (11'19''). There are plenty of other reasons: Terfel's bar-by-bar characterization (and glorious voice), with the full expressive range of the role from impassioned appeal to gentle call conveyed without artifice and choral singing from Hampshire's finest, rivalling Hickox's 1980 LSO Chorus, and surpassing Mackerras's Welsh forces. The whole is recorded with warmth, spaciousness and depth; and more clarity, less spotlighting and wider dynamics than the 1980 production.
Bryn Terfel in Sea Drift, and both he and Sally Burgess in Songs of Sunset are a little larger than life in the Chandos mix—in this respect Beecham's 1957 Songs of Sunset on EMI is peerless—just as Fenby's soloists in his 1986 Unicorn Songs of Sunset were treated to a more 'operatic' presence. Both Hickox and Fenby prefer slower tempos to Beecham, and both go their own way with respect to some of the score's dynamics (many of them Beecham's anyway). The principal difference between Fenby and Hickox in both song settings is in the balance between orchestra and chorus; Fenby with a distant chorus and more enlivening orchestral detail, and Hickox with a fuller, more present choral sound (and clear consonants). If Hickox's Sally Burgess is taxed a little by the high notes in the Songs of Sunset, Hickox is greatly to be preferred to Fenby (again Unicorn, differently coupled) in the Songs of Farewell, where Fenby's chorus have difficulty with some of his broad tempos—there's a lot more life in Hickox's last three songs, particularly the ''Old Sailor'' of the final song. Strongly recommended.'