Gerald Fenech

This Hallé series is one of the finest being issued at the moment with extremely original covers and outstanding recordings to boot. This album covers some of the most popular English 'pastoral' music but also has some rarities in the shape of Butterworth's 'Two English Idylls'.

Mark Elder has been working wonders at the rejuvenated Hallé with a silky string sound that is ideally suited to this music. Butterworth's 'Shropshire Lad' and the aptly titled, 'Banks of Green Willow' are quite gorgeously done with Hickox and Handley standing in the shade of Elder's deeply thought interpretations.

With Delius, Elder comes into direct competition with Sir Thomas Beecham and I must say that the latter's 'Walk to the Paradise Garden' is quite unsurpassable. Elder does manage to match Beecham in the intensity of the music and the digital recording is a great help. The same goes for 'Brigg Fair' which is also very well played by the Hallé, recalling memories of the equally legendary Sir John Barbirolli's tenure.

The disc concludes with two rare items, a fine interpretation of Grainger's 'Brigg Fair' with James Gilchrist and an equally fascinating recording of Joseph Taylor from 1908, a rarity that is worth the price of this issue alone. Beautifully recorded and stylishly presented, this disc is ideal for those who wish to purchase an introduction to the English pastoral scene.