Whatever happened to Delius? At one time his reputation was on the same pedestal as his near contemporaries Elgar and Vaughan Williams and with the advocacy of conductors such as Beecham and Barbirolli, his music remained regularly in the repertory until the late 20th century. But in recent years it is a real occasion to hear a live performance of even his most popular orchestral miniatures such as On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring or The Walk to the Paradise Garden. All credit to Sir Andrew Davis for programming the once popular extended miniature from 1911, In a Summer Garden.

Sir Andrew Davis © Lucas Dawson
Sir Andrew Davis
© Lucas Dawson

This was mostly a very engaging performance bringing out the woodwind delights in the orchestration. Its apparently loose structure, depicting a leisurely amble in a beautiful garden, stopping to admire flowers and to notice insects and birds, was well held together here. Only when the music expanded passionately, did it feel that Davis was missing the point, reducing the tempo and encouraging a richness of sound that felt more Elgarian than Delian, without that raw and cruel edge that is it at the heart of most of Delius' works and makes them unique.

It was surprisingly easy to move from this pastoral scene to the first performance of Hugh Wood’s BBC commission Epithalamion, a setting of a poem by that name by John Donne, written to celebrate the marriage in 1613 of Princess Elizabeth to Frederick, Count Palatine. Once a follower of Schoenbergian serialism, Wood's current musical language, evidenced by this work, is largely tonal. Echoes of Tippett in the orchestral writing and George Dyson in the straightforward, linear approach to choral writing, gave the work a familiar English choral hue and proved to very approachable, if lacking the bite and conviction of Wood’s earlier work.

Well brought off by the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBCSO under the enthusiastic stewardship of Davis, with minor solo interjections form soprano Rebecca Bottone and baritone Nicholas Epton, it was sad to contemplate that this attractive work will be lucky to receive any further performances and will go the way of most of the commissions at this year’s Proms.

The centrepiece of the concert proved to be the performance of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, by the über-talented Mark Simpson. A work that shows off the fullest range of the instruments capabilities and manages to occupy a very uncomfortable personal world at the same time. One of the composer’s last works, it is a truculent confection which seems to be striving and failing to find a sense of optimism and faith in life, which characterised the composers earlier style.

Simpson certainly had all the technical equipment to deal with everything Nielsen throws at the soloist. Only at the beginning of the performance did it feel like he hadn’t got the measure of the hall and he seemed to be under-projecting. By the end he settled into the vast cavernous space and found all its corners with his brilliant and varied tone.

It was a very good piece of programming to end the evening with Ravel's Suite no. 2 from Daphnis and Chloé. The luxurious simplicity of the “Sunrise” section and the unalloyed joy of the “Danse générale” were the ideal antidote to everything that had gone before. And the BBCSO was able to demonstrate what a top notch band it is at the moment, with super refined woodwind playing again and a rich string sound, which blended superbly with the chorus into a wonderfully cohesive and thrilling sound picture.

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