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  • Tom Pickles

Delius Society Recording

I was delighted to be asked to record two pieces by the Delius Society, to accompany their AGM this November.

For this recording I worked with the Japanese pianist Shintaro Kawahara, recording the Romance for Cello and Piano by Delius, and At Malvern by Ian Venables. The above photo shows Oude Delft, South Holland, where we recorded our videos in a private residence. The videos will be added to this post after Monday, November 30th.

The Romance is an early work, written in 1896 during Delius' time in Paris. This was a productive period of his life; the city seems to have been a great inspiration to him. The Romance is full of lush harmonies and long, unbroken melodies. I spent a lot of time imagining how I would sing the long phrases, trying to finding a convincing balance of ebb and flow. I also paid a lot of attention achieving a good legato, and not allowing bow changes and string crossings to affect the flow of the line.

A big part of the difficulty of this piece lies in the awkward key - B major, wonderfully rich and warm but far from the most natural or resonant on the cello! This requires visits to remoter parts of the fingerboard, and the difficulty of getting the instrument ringing in tune adds to the challenge of creating a legato and sustaining a long line. The very opening of the Romance in particular needs close attention to all of these considerations, and required the most practice of anything in the piece!

'At Malvern' is originally a song, for baritone and piano - songs are what Ian Venables is chiefly known for. Venables is an acknowledged authority on the work of the 19th-Century poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds, and came upon the text for the original song while cataloguing Symond's oeuvre of over seven hundred poems. The full text and a fascinating programme note by John France can be found here. The piece truly captures the magic of Malvern and its beautiful setting in the Worcestershire countryside; the motif in the piano evokes the bells of Malvern priory.

Again, I spent time singing the melody, and trying to capture the natural phrasing of my voice on the cello - even more important when playing a song!

I focused on starting sounds with a clean emergence, without a 'clearing of the throat'. Recently I have been thinking about using my whole body to generate sound - free spine, rotating shoulders, free legs engaged with floor - rather than my arm in isolation, which I have tended towards in the past. At Malvern, being considerably more stop-start than the Romance, gave me a great chance to practice starting sounds in this way.

It was a pleasure to learn and record these two pieces, and I gained a lot from the process. Now I look forward to my next recording project!!

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