Mark Elder / Hallé Choir / Hallé Orchestra / Hallé Youth Choir / Roderick Williams

Holst: The Hymn of Jesus; Delius: Sea Drift & Cynara

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Here's a program that would have been commonplace 90 years ago but now is a bit of a novelty anywhere but Britain. It can be safely recommended, for the Hallé Orchestra (and Choir) under Mark Elder are absolutely in their element in this British repertoire of the early 20th century. Gustav Holst's The Hymn of Jesus, Op. 37, remains a bit of a novelty: a setting of an apocryphal account of the prelude to Christ's crucifixion in which he dances with his disciples. Holst apparently translated the text from ancient Greek himself, and in this curiously British version of ecstatic Christianity the Hallé Choir and Hallé Youth Choir acquit themselves very well, offering impressive smooth waves of sound. Even more of a novelty is Delius' Cynara, a setting of an undeniably sleazy poem by Ernest Dowson (the subject is a man telling his ex about visiting a prostitute) that's little known nowadays but that bequeathed both the phrases "gone with the wind" and "days of wine and roses" to everyday English. Delius isn't the first composer you would think of for its lush lines, and in a way he works at cross purposes to them. But the result has the flavor of a meeting between two major creative figures. Baritone Roderick Williams declaims the text beautifully, and the better-known Sea Drift, a setting of a section of a poem by Walt Whitman, is vintage Delius and entirely idiomatically performed. Williams is wonderfully clear and involved in both the Delius pieces. A fine piece of British vocal-orchestral work.

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