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Another of Delius’s best-known works falls into the same category as The Walk to the Paradise Garden, being an interlude from an opera that is now rarely heard in full. Koanga predates A Village Romeo and Juliet by just four years and comes from the composer’s Bohemian years in Paris during the 1890s.
Delius himself considered it his best opera to date. It was his third after Irmelin and The Magic Fountain and it drew on his experiences in the orange groves of Florida. The hero of the opera, Koanga, is an African prince and voodoo priest, now working as a slave on a Mississippi plantation.
Delius incorporated a traditional Martinique dance from the seventeenth century into the plot, for which he wrote a small musical interlude, borrowing from something he had written earlier in his first orchestral work, the Florida Suite. When his trusty companion and scribe Eric Fenby arranged the interlude for orchestra in 1938 – some forty years later – it quickly became another hardy perennial on concert programmes up and down the land.
Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Neville Marriner (conductor). Decca: 4527072.
Illustration: Mark Millington