When I first encountered the music of Frederick Delius way back when I was in college, the label "the English Debussy" was attached to him. That kind of thing always sounds like a bit of a putdown to me: you know, "sort of like, but not as good as the original." And that unfortunately is not a totally mistaken label. But it's not very useful, either. I suppose it arises from the small number of small orchestral pieces which are all most people, including me, ever hear of his music.
In any case, I like him. Some years ago now I posted a few remarks about his music here, along with a YouTube video of On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. I recall Janet saying that it sounded like 1940s film music--which it does, and to my mind that's not necessarily a bad thing, though if there was an influence it probably began with Delius, who died in 1934, and "Cuckoo" was written in 1912. The music of his that I know can fairly be described as dreamy: slow, sweet, quiet, rhapsodic, impressionistic (whatever that means, but if it's true of some of Debussy it's true of Delius), loosely structured (or so it seems to me).
My first thought upon discovering two LPs of Delius in the Fr. Dorrell haul was that I might not need to keep them. I already had one CD of his music, and I like it a lot. I figured the chances were good that most or maybe even all of the music on the LPs is on the CD. And surely there would be enough duplication between the two LPs that I would only need to keep one of them.
Wrong. In fact the contents of the three don't have all that much overlap. Most importantly, both of the LPs include a really fine and substantial piece that is not on either of the other two collections.
Music of Delius, Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Capitol SG7116.
Brigg Fair; A Song Before Sunrise, Marche Caprice; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring; Summer Night On the River; Sleigh Ride (Winternacht); Intermezzo (from "Fennimore and Gerda")
In A Summer Garden: Music of Frederick Delius, Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra. Angel S-36588
In A Summer Garden; Intermezzo and Serenade from "Hassan"; A Song Before Sunrise; La Calinda from "Koanga"; On Hearing the First Cuckoo In Spring; Summer Night On the River; Late Swallows
The big discovery here for me, both LPs considered, is Brigg Fair. Based on a folk song, it seems to me worthy of comparison with conceptually similar works by Vaughan Williams and Butterworth. On the other LP, the title piece is the find, and although I don't like it quite as well as Brigg Fair, it's certainly a very fine one. In comparison to most of the short pieces which, as I mentioned, seem to be the ones most remembered from what is actually a quite large body of work, both these works are "long"--in the fifteen minute range.
The CD I mentioned is called Delius: Miniatures, Norman del Mar conducting the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. There are three pieces which are on all three albums: Cuckoo, A Song Before Sunrise, and Summer Night On the River. I conjecture from that fact that you will find them on most any collection of Delius's shorter works. I didn't make any attempt to do a direct comparison of the performance of any one piece among the three, but it did cross my mind that the Beecham version of Cuckoo has a sort of...burgeoning quality that the others do not. Beecham was an advocate for the composer and seems to be generally considered at minimum one of the best conductors of his music.
Aside from those three pieces, and the two discoveries, all the other works on the two LPs are quite brief but very pleasing. Worthy of particular mention is the music from "Hassan," which includes a lovely wordless tenor serenade. According to the liner notes, it's "rarely heard." But then that was written decades ago.
The Beecham recording is older by about a decade (1958 vs. 1969, it appears), and recording technology improved a good bit during that time. Still, as with most of these LPs from the '50s, I think the quality of this one is very decent. I would be surprised if all these performances weren't still available in some form, but Beecham's work in particular has been re-packaged and re-issued in so many forms that it might not be easy to find these specific sets.
Here's what seems to be the same Beecham recording I have, though the jacket that appears in this video is very different from mine and doesn't appear to be on Capitol. Some migration of licenses over the years or between nations, I guess.