Why is Delius only a minor composer? One plausible answer is that his music has a very narrow expressive range. The keynote is usually languor: warm, sunny and sensual or modulating into twilight tristesse.
Attempts at heaven-storming affirmation, as in his Nietzsche-inspired Mass of Life, sound forced and inauthentic. His Florida Suite, composed when he was 24 and living in America, tantalisingly suggests that he might have pursued a different musical path. It’s a big extrovert work in four sections requiring a large orchestra with Delius giving the wind section plenty of work.
There’s nothing distinctively American about the music, despite claims that it incorporates the songs of the black plantation workers. To the innocent ear it sounds like Dvorak and the opening melody for oboe – soulfully played here – could have wafted straight from Bohemia. Yet even this early work presages the later Delius “half in love with easeful death” as it subsides into night with echoing horn calls. In Brigg Fair the orchestra – well marshalled by Daniele Rosina – relished Delius’s rich textures, with wind and brass sections outstanding.
But, typical Delius, the percussion and brass powered climax becomes an anti-climax, and the works ends not with a bang but a whisper of plaintive oboe. Amy Littlewood (violin) and Hetti Price (cello) were the excellent soloists in Delius’s double concerto. They were scrupulously attentive to each others’ lines; vital in a work which casts them not as virtuosi but first among equals, weaving in and out of the orchestral texture.