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Another highly successful and rewarding endeavour for Callaghan and Takenouchi

International Record Review, Mark Tanner

I had the pleasure of reviewing the first instalment of Simon Callaghan’s and Hiroaki Takenouchi’s Delius transcriptions for two pianos in June 2012 and commented upon a ‘sparkling and sincere treatment’ of ‘La Calinda’ (from Koanga,  arranged by Joan Trimble) . The disc really captured the colours and timbres of Delius’s multifaceted style, so it was with great anticipation that I peeled off the cellophane from Volume 2.

As with the first disc, the recording was made in 2011 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, and as before, was impressed by the quality of the sound captured by Somm.

Callaghan and Takenouchi are a very well marshalled duo, coupling dexterity and enthusiasm with a natural sense of ease and a perceptive response to the music. Though two pianos can, in the right hands, tease out an enormous spectrum of effects with which to fulfil orchestrally conceived music, there are a great many hazards and complexities to overcome first, such as matching tonal and dynamic shades alongside pedal effects, not to mention the nitty-gritty business of gauging shifts in tempo and marrying up the attack so that the texture remains transparent. All of this is very well handled by these players, so that the music is permitted to spring forward in a lively, engaging manner. I particularly enjoyed their account of the somewhat louche Paris: A Nocturne (arranged by Julius Bluths), which took as its inspiration Delius’s first encounter with the French capital in 1888, a time when the air must have been thick with riotous hedonism and intellectual inspiration. This sprawling work, a kind of bizarre tone poem, emerges over some 22 minutes from an enigmatic – scary even – subterranean preamble into more emphatic, evocative and perfumed territory. The shadowy avenues eventually, or at least temporarily, lead into lighter, ebullient areas of music; in truth one never quite knows what is coming next. The performance is well coordinated and evolves into something really rather exciting in the middle.

Summer Night on the River is the sequel to On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, which was also dedicated to Balfour Gardiner. Arranged by Philip Heseltine (a.k.a. Peter Warlock), it achieves a beautifully lilting atmosphere in this performance.

Debussyan sonorities are somewhere in the mix and, although there is an elusive melody to clutch onto from time to time, one finds oneself floating along in the moment, pleasantly unsure of what one is experiencing.

In his nicely concise notes, Martin Lee-Browne explains that Delius was a lifelong admirer of Norway, and in this marvellously spacious, panoramic work, Eventyr, arranged by Benjamin Dale, the music’s storytelling dimension comes across very enjoyably. For me, this piece shines out as the most consistently enticing work on the disc, with sinister undertones and rugged scenes colliding with less impetuous moments and oddly pleasing brighter splashes of colour. Delius seems to have had people queuing up to create arrangements of his orchestral pieces, and Percy Grainger was also responsible for A Dance Rhapsody No. 1, which the duo ably captured in Volume I. Song of the High Hills is another Norway-motivated work of considerable length and diversity. The mountainous terrain is verv well evoked in the writing, and the shimmering detail is superbly drawn out in this performance. The rhythmically stirring Fantastic Dance, written in 1931 , arranged by Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, is by comparison a somewhat brief, quirky work, though nonetheless vivid and always interesting.

Though narrowly missing the boat for the 150th anniversary of Delius’s birth (Volume I was timed to perfection), this recording chalks up another highly successful and rewarding endeavour for Callaghan and Takenouchi. Delius fans will have something to talk about.

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Arnold Schoenberg famously proposed that good music was music that remained good even when transcribed for the zither. Zither arrangements of Delius are unlikely to happen, though his orchestral music – rhapsodic, ecstatic, often coloured in half-lights – has proved unusually susceptible to conversion for two pianos. In this first of Somm’s enterprising two-part survey, it helps that the acoustic and spatial spread are so vivid: the Steinway concert grands seem right in your living room, lending new clarity to textures and nuances sometimes mislaid in the  orchestral haze. It also helps that Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi, first teamed together at London’s Royal College of Music, play with such love, panache, and exact synchronisation.
The skill of these arrangements varies. Most utilitarian is Rudolf Schmidt-Wunstorf’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring which gives us the visible bones but no flesh, no spirit. Delius’s own contemporaries buckle to the task with greater understanding. Percy Grainger’s own piano panache enlivens his treatment of the Dance Rhapsody; Philip Heseltine’s Brigg Fair shimmers with magic at the start; and if the rarely encountered  Poem of Life and Love stays structurally indigestible Balfour Gardiner and Eric Fenby’s distillation still reveals many riches.

Roll on volume two!

Collective spirit for addressing the knotty musical priorities

International Record Review, Mark Tanner

Frederick Delius’s orchestral music abounds in colour and vividness of effect. During 2012 there will doubtless be numerous commemorative ventures marking the 150 years since the composer’s birth, but Delius’s music all too easily slips through the net. It permeates the senses in ways not quite emulated by his British contemporaries, although needless to say there are common threads and priorities to notice; the fact that Delius spent well over half of his life in France means that he picked up an enormous wealth of influences along the way. All the more so given that, at the age of 22, he moved to Florida to cultivate oranges before moving to Virginia, where he found his feet as a music teacher.

Back To Top 18/05/2021