HOLST Hymn of Jesus DELIUS Sea Drift
There can be few more raptly compassionate statements in all music than Delius’s 1903 04 Whitman setting Sea Drift, and I’m delighted to report that this keenly poetic, at times daringly spacious and shrewdly observant account finds Sir Mark Elder and his combined Hallé forces operating at the very top of their game. Both commanding in technique and golden of tone, baritone Roderick Williams makes a worthy successor to such distinguished protagonists as John Noble (EMI), John Shirley-Quirk (Argo), Thomas Hampson (Argo) and Bryn Terfel (Chandos). He may not quite possess Terfel’s sublime gift for illuminating the text but his involvement is total; indeed, his heart-rending delivery of the transcendental closing section (‘O past! O happy life!’, with its unforgettably poignant switch into the major) never fails to bring a lump to the throat. If anything, Bo Holten at the helm of the Aarhus SO displays an even greater understanding of the music’s entrancingly organic flow but this imposing Hallé newcomer demands to be heard nonetheless. Williams and Elder also give a marvellously perceptive rendering of Cynara, a late (1929) setting of Ernest Dowson that has never in my experience sounded more arresting than here.
Riches aplenty, then, and the majestic performance of Holst’s The Hymn of Jesus that opens proceedings is surely the icing on the cake. Sargent (HMV, from 1945), Boult (Decca), Groves (EMI) and Hickox (Chandos) all gave of their very best in this visionary, luminously textured score – and so, too, does Elder, who draws a thrillingly fervent and superbly confident response from his meticulously prepared Hallé cohorts (the enthusiastic applause after this item and Sea Drift has been left in.) Top-notch production values and exemplary annotations set the seal on an unmissable release.