REVIEW: "SEA DRIFT" in Houston, Texas - Nov. 8, 2003
by Bill Thompson

SEA DRIFT by Frederick Delius was performed by the Houston Masterworks Chorus and
Orchestra on Saturday, November 8, 2003 in Houston, Texas at the Stude Concert Hall on the
campus of Rice University.    Dr. Craig Hella Johnson conducted, and Gerald Dolter was the
baritone soloist.

The concert program notes by David Mead gave generous detail about Delius' life and musical
style, along with insightful analysis of SEA DRIFT.   There was also mention of Don Gillespie's
finding that Thomas F. Ward, teacher of Delius, resided in Houston in his final years.

Dr. Johnson began the program with some spoken remarks.  Here is my recollection of his

"The first work you will be hearing tonight is SEA DRIFT by Frederick Delius.  Then, after an
intermission, you will hear A SEA SYMPHONY by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  These two
magnificent works are rarely performed outside of Europe.  Both are settings of texts by Walt
Whitman, whose poems were popular with composers in the late 19th and early 20th century.    In
SEA DRIFT, Delius' haunting music portrays the themes of death, loss and the transience of
life."  (He followed with some comments about the RVW work.)

In my opinion, SEA DRIFT was performed superbly.   It was quickly apparent that Dr. Johnson
had prepared the performance with utmost care, and he demonstrated a great appreciation for
and understanding of Delius' music.

The music began quietly with shimmering clarity.   The acoustics of the beautiful Stude Concert
Hall were perfect.

The "surging of the sea" was felt throughout the work with gentle crescendo and decrescendo.
There were many "spine-tingling" moments during the performance, particularly the choir
entrances on "Once Paumanok", "Shine! Shine! Shine!" and "O Rising Stars!"  There were
memorable moments in the orchestra also: the bass drum softly booming the crash of the waves;
the two harpists in "Yes, when the stars glisten'd"; and the many woodwind passages.

Gerald Dolter's rendering of the baritone solo conveyed the emotions of the story very
effectively.  His voice was well-suited to the work.   My only wish is that his voice could have been
miked and amplified for a better balance with the orchestra and chorus: I had to strain to hear
him clearly when the full ensemble was playing.   I understand that miking the soloists in this
type of concert is not common practice, but in this case it would have helped.

The concluding section "O past! O happy life!" was just overwhelming.   As the music died away,
there was complete silence in the hall.   Then, a very nice round of applause from the audience.

Thus ended a rare performance of the music of Frederick Delius in Houston, Texas.   I hope that
the Houston Masterworks Chorus will follow this success with more of Delius' choral works in
future seasons.

Houston Chronicle review of the concert

Houston Masterworks Chorus
3131 West Alabama, Suite 302
Houston, TX 77098
713.529.7325 (fax)
Web Site

Back to the Delius Page