Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
12:00 AM 4th May 2024

Classical Music: Delius Hassan

Frederick Delius: Hassan
Complete Incidental Music to the Play by James Elroy Flecker
Zeb Soames Narrator
Britten Sinfonia Voices & Britten Sinfonia
Jamie Phillips

Chandos CHAN 20296

On July 15, 1920, the actor and director Basil Dean paid a visit to Frederick Delius and his wife at their house in Grez-sur-Loing, south of Paris. They were hoping to persuade Delius to compose incidental music for a production of a play entitled Hassan by the recently deceased James Elroy Flecker, which Dean was planning to stage at His Majesty’s Theatre in London the following year. Daniel M. Grimley's interesting notes also inform us that Delius claimed that he was not interested in writing for plays, despite having previously composed six operas as well as music for Gunnar Heiberg's political satire Folkeraadet. However, the personal approach appears to have changed the composer's mind.

Flecker's text was inspired by nineteenth-century English translations of One Thousand and One Nights, as well as other heavily fictionalised accounts and travel literature.

Zeb Soames, a former BBC Radio 4 continuity announcer and current presenter of Classic
FM's Smooth Classics, convincingly narrates the entire score. His narration has a wonderful tone, and he fully immerses himself in the text with plenty of vocal modulation.

Despite its widespread recognition as one of Delius's greatest successes, Hassan fails to fully captivate. The Britten Sinfonia Voices are, as one would expect, excellent, although at times distant, and the Britten Sinfonia orchestral players capture the Middle Eastern exoticism well. The Procession of Protracted Death, coupled with the prelude to, and the ten-minute closing scene, are evocative, with sensitive and beautiful contributions from all musicians managing to demonstrate Delius’ inventive and creative score.