Chandos release complete ‘Hassan’

Hassan – Complete Incidental Music

Chandos 20296, April 2024

The Story of Hassan of Bagdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand
Complete Incidental Music to the Poetic Prose Play in Five Acts (1911-13) by James Elroy Flecker (1844-1915), with Linking Narration by Meurig Bowen
”General Dance”, Act II, Scene 1, contributed by Percy Grainger (1882-1961)

Ruairi Bowen, Tenor
Britten Sinfonia Voices
Britten Sinfonia
Jamie Phillips, Conductor
Reader narrator / Ishak *
Zeb Soanes
Recorded November 2022 (live)
Saffron Hall, Essex

Although he had initially declined the commission, Delius was persuaded to write the incidental music for Hassan by the actor and director Basil Dean, in July 1920, for performances he was planning for His Majesty’s Theatre, London, the following year. Much of the music was drafted within a few weeks, and the score would eventually prove one of the greatest successes of Delius’s career. Dean’s plans for the project encountered significant obstacles and delays, however, and he had to commission additional music from Delius to cover the production’s complex scene changes. The London première eventually took place on 20 September 1923 and was a critical sensation. Flecker’s play is a sinuous double-narrative that intertwines the twin stories of the lovelorn but worldly wise Hassan, confectioner at the court of the cruel and vindictive Caliph Haroun al Rashid (called Haroun ar Rashid in Flecker’s play), and the young lovers Pervaneh and Rafi, caught up in the aftermath of a failed uprising and condemned to a terrifying and brutally protracted death. In tone and setting, Flecker’s text drew on nineteenth-century English translations of One Thousand and One Nights as well as other heavily fictionalised accounts and travel literature. Very much a product of the racial and class-based attitudes of its time, the play revels in imaginary scenes of a despotic Eastern court and its gruesomely barbaric practices.

Related material from one of the performances by the Britten Sinfonia in February 2023

Tim Ashley in The Guardian: “Delius does something astonishing in the final scene when Hassan, broken and disillusioned, joins pilgrims on “the golden road to Samarkand” and the music slowly leaves the chromatic anguish of this world behind and moves towards a timeless simplicity that almost pre-empts minimalism. It’s extraordinarily affecting: the players and Britten Sinfonia Voices sounded particularly beautiful here.”

Richard Fairman in The FT: “Delius’s music deserves rescuing and the Britten Sinfonia’s performance, conducted by Jamie Phillips, showed how imaginatively it uses its modest resources. An orchestra of less than 30, together with chorus, creates a lightly suggestive Middle Eastern atmosphere, rising to a visionary pilgrim’s procession at the end as Hassan sets off on the golden road to Samarkand.”

Zeb Soanes introduces the live performances in 2023: