Partsongs by Frederick Delius & John Ireland
Apart from as a composer (and writer), it has been a while since Paul Spicer’s last published outing. That was, as here, with the Chamber Choir of the Birmingham Conservatoire and was also as here an anthology of 20th-century choral music. This new offering is more specific, though, comprising only part-songs of Frederick Delius and John Ireland. Never one to release a disc of little-known music just for the sake of his own musical preferences – Spicer is one of this country’s greatest champions of English choral music – the niche character of this disc belies the colourful universe of Victorian and Edwardian England and the worthiness of the music itself.
Despite their obvious craftsmanship and refinement, the part-songs of both Delius and Ireland are peppered with the folksong references that make them so unmistakably English and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir perform them with admirable tuning and ensemble (although perhaps given a slightly unfair advantage by the expansive acoustic of Birmingham’s Church of St Alban). There is equally admirable direction by Spicer, too, who applies the minutiae of his choral dexterity to a responsive and surprisingly mature choral sound, especially in Ireland’s male-led ‘Heraclitus’. If I were to make any criticism, it would simply be that the size of the choir and the acoustic in which it sings obscure the intimacy that is often the draw to enjoyment of the part-song, both English and German. However, that the breadth of sound so greatly enhances the homophony, which is also an important characteristic of this repertoire, is more than enough mitigation to go round.