In a Summer Garden

Looking out onto a bright May afternoon. (Photo credit: Néstor Castiglione)

All are my blooms; and all sweet blooms of love.

To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang.

—Dante Gabriel Rosetti (couplet quoted at the head of the score to Frederick Delius’ In A Summer Garden)

It may not have been quite obvious yet yesterday. But by this morning there was no mistaking it: Our long and very welcome winter here in Southern California is finally gone, gone far too soon.

Despite being born and raised in the Los Angeles area, not to mention having lived 34 1/2 out of my total of near 37 years here, I’ve never liked the region’s famous “endless summer” weather, far preferring its mild autumns and winters. (Though it was getting to be difficult to discern the changing of the seasons in recent years.)

Nevertheless, summer is here; and while I’m less than enthused about the prospect of having to endure triple-digit heat waves from now through October, I’m glad that I have yet another excuse to listen to the music of Frederick Delius. Not that I need much of one to begin with. Delius is a year-round favorite of mine, though there is in his music an affinity for brightness, for light that strikes me as especially appropriate for summer.

It’s no surprise that he composed a number of works inspired by the season: Summer Evening, Summer Night on the River, A Song of Summer. Delius’ 1908 tone poem, In a Summer Garden, is perhaps the finest of these seasonal-themed works, certainly it’s one of his great masterpieces. Joyful and ecstatic, yet stung by gentle melancholy, the work is a poignant ode to the sweet fragility of life, to the impermanence of things. Even at day’s zenith, dusk awaits around the corner. Live and love now, the composer seems to intimate—life’s beauty is eternal, but man is not.

An opulent score like this deserves a performance to match: Eugene Ormandy’s 1962 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra is just that. Part of an all-Delius album that included Brigg Fair and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, it may be one of the gems in that orchestra’s discography. A gorgeous recording of music by the man whom Sir Thomas Beecham referred to only two years prior as “the last great apostle in our time of romance, emotion and beauty in music.” Never was that more true than here.

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