Under the Surface at the Proms – Delius and Nielsen

Prom 7, 22 July 2015 – BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis at the Royal Albert Hall


Delius’ garden in Grez-Sur-Loing, France Picture part of a collection at the website

Delius In a Summer Garden (1908)


Is there a less fashionable British composer than Delius?

Not where the BBC Proms are concerned, it would seem – as right from the start the composer’s music has not done particularly well at the festival in the last 50 years. That poor form is exemplified by In a Summer Garden, written about Delius’ garden in Grez-Sur-Loing, France. The piece, receiving its first performance at the Proms since Sir Charles Groves brought it to the festival in 1977, was revived here under Delian specialist Sir Andrew Davis.

Delius’ mastery lies in his orchestration and harmony, with sultry added notes and hazy, impressionistic textures that evoke the laziness of a summer day. Woodwind add bird calls, and lazy melodies flit around the orchestra, before rising to an apex. This performance is as good as any you could wish for, and Davis conducted it with great affection.

Nielsen Clarinet Concerto (1928) with soloist Mark Simpson


Not surprisingly, Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto is a very different animal to the Delius. One of the composer’s last published works, it was the second in a sequence he was planning to write for members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet – but sadly due to ill health he did not get as far as oboe, horn or bassoon.

Cast in three movements, the piece takes on a very private demeanour at times, the clarinet asked to play very quietly. This was where Mark Simpson came into his own, with exemplary control and poise that he held right up to the end, despite the necessities of breathing!

In the faster music Nielsen often brings to mind the music of Shostakovich, and the snare drum assumes a prominent role, frequently interrupting the soloist with its own thoughts. David Hockings, the resident BBC Symphony Orchestra percussionist, was on superb form here, and his rat-a-tat traded blows with the clarinet as the outer movements zipped along. On occasion, especially at the start, Simpson could have been louder still – but in his defence the Royal Albert Hall is not the easiest acoustic to work with for such a piece!

There will be more Under the Surface features as the Proms progress, exploring lesser known pieces and composers at the festival

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