The Discography of Granville Bantock
A Beginners Guide by Vincent Budd
If your taste is for the orchestral and the pastoral there is probably no better starting point than GB's late but exquisite Celtic Symphony, beautifully performed by Handley and the RPO on the first of Hyperion's Bantock series. It is coupled with three other rnagnificent works, the Hebridean Symphony, The Witch of Atlas, and The Sea Reivers. This CD serves as the perfect introduction to GB's musical soundscape. Essential.
There are now three CD recordings of the Hebridean Symphony available and the other two versions are both worth investigating too: the first is a live recording from 1968 by Boult with the Scottish SO on Intaglio, coupled with the equally powerful Pagan Symphony, performed by Maurice Handford and the BBC Northern SO; the second is on Marco Polo CD performed by Adrian Leaper and the Czechoslovak State Philharmonic and has the added advantage of being programmed with two 'lighter' works, Old English Suite and Russian Scenes not available elsewhere.
Believe it or not there are also three CD recordings of the Pagan Symphony in the catalogue. A recent release with Sir Edward Downes conducting the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in a recording from 1984 can be found in the cheaply-priced BBC Carlton Series along with three shorter works by Bax. The symphony is also the principal work on Hyperion's second Handley/RPO Bantock CD coupled with two Hebridean pieces Cuchullan's Lament and Kishmul's Gallery, collectively entitled Two Heroic Ballads, plus one of GB's most well known works Fifine at the Fair. This too is essential listening, and another excellent point from which to approach the music of GB.
Fifine at the Fair was of course the one particular piece championed by Thomas Beecham and a RPO recording from 1949, partly sponsored by the Bantock Society, is available on EMI's mid-priced Beecham Edition, though the work is slightly edited. Of course this first appeared on a 78, but was re-issued a number of times on LP. The other well-known GB work is The Pierrot of the Minute and this can be found on a mid-priced Chandos Collect CD where Norman Del Mar conducts the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. The disc also contains other familiar pieces by Bridge and Butterworth and the works, originally released as an LP in 1979, have been digitally re-mastered.
The third issue in Hyperion's Bantock Edition contains three substantial works in the GB ouevre, Dante and Beatrice, the Helena Variations, and GB's 3rd Symphony, titled The Cyprian Goddess. Absorbing as it is and a vital release for most Bantockians, it would probably not be the best place to begin investigating GB's music.
If your particular fancy tends toward the vocal rather than the orchestral then look no further than Hyperion's 4th Bantock issue and one of the noblest song cycles in all C20th British music, Sappho: Prelude and Nine Fragments for Mezzo Soprano and Orchestra. This is a major milestone work and would surely delight even some of his severest critics and is another essential recording. The CD is completed by GB's Sapphic Poem for Cello and Orchestra with Julian Lloyd Webber as soloist and acts as a perfect coupling. Another essential recording.
Less immediate and certainly much more of an acquired taste for many are GB's two half-hour choral symphonies entitled Atalanta in Calydon and The Vanity of Vanities which were recently released by Albany. Though some would suggest that these works are a far from successful 'experiment', for lovers of choral music especially they present a fascinating aspect of GB's work and there is indeed much to admire and the works have their devotees: but be prepared this is not GB at his most accessible.
GB wrote and arranged well over 100 piano pieces, but he did not compose an immense number of chamber works; though what there is contains some quite delightful music which deserves exploring. Unfortunately there are only two instrumental pieces on CD: the short Pagan Poem played by Kenneth Smith, accompanied by Paul Rhodes on ASV's CD entitled 'The Reed of Pan: British Works for Flute, Vol.3'; and Violin Sonata No.3 in C on a United CD coupled with violin sonatas by Dunhill and Standford and played by Susanne Stanzeleit, accompanied by Gustáv Fenyó. For those really taken with GB's music these are a valuable addition to his discography, but it would be pleasing to have a more thorough investigation of GB's chamber works, such as the string quartet In A Chinese Mirror, played recently on Radio 3 or some of the Hebridean inspired works.
GB also wrote and arranged over 400 songs and some are also available on CD. Especially noteworthy are the Orpheus Choir CDs 20 Classic Recordings which contains Sea Sorrow, and 0 Light of Life which serves up Scots Wha Ha'e, Dumbarton Drums, and 0, Can Ye Sew Cushions. These are digitally re-mastered recordings originally released on 78s.
Right towards the end of his life GB wrote a small number of works for brass, but perhaps his most famous composition in this genre, Prometheus Unbound, dates from 1933 and this can be found on two separate CDs in recitals given by the Black Dyke Mills Band. The Chandos recording was directed by G.Brand, but the Polygram release under J.Watson has the added advantage of also including GB's brass arrangement of The Frogs of Aristophanes.
So, although there is not an immense number of recordings of GB's music in the catalogue and whilst there is a lot more to anticipate - notably a recording of Omar Khayyam - there is still much to hear that will surely delight and interest and perhaps surprise. If you are new to GB then look no further than the Celtic, Hebridean, and Pagan Symphonies, The witch of Atlas, Fifine at the Fair, and now Sappho all of which cannot fail to reveal the compositional craft and musical stature of Granville Bantock.
LPs and 78s
For vinyl enthusiasts and committed Bantock aficionados there are some real goodies to be found, if you are willing to search for them, though many of the old 78 issues are now very difficult to obtain. Some of the rarer discs do crop up now and again, but unless your funds are limitless and you don't mind re-mortgaging your house, be very careful as some dealers can ask quite unreasonable prices, sometimes even for less rarer items which, with patience, can often be had for a much more acceptable exchange of your hard-earned money. Also some dealers often pretend to know a lot about Bantock's recordings when in fact they know virtually nothing: for example, if you are offered a recording of the Pagan Symphony by the Versailles Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claude Dupre (one dealer offered me this said 'prized item' for nearly £40), avoid it at all costs as it is in fact nothing more than a truly awful Canadian bootleg of the Maurice Handford recording now available on the Intaglio CD (unless of course you are a really obsessional completist in which case it may be cheaper in the long run to seek medical help immediately!).
The easiest records to find are naturally the more recent LPs. Geoffrey Heald-Smith's two City of Hull Orchestra LPs issued on the Gough and Davey label in the '70s are reasonably common and can be obtained for around £10 and are well worth seeking out. The first contains a recording of the Hebridean Symphony (which was featured in the LWT South Bank Show programme about GB) and the Macbeth: Overture. The second has Sapphic Poem for Cello and Orchestra, just recorded by Julian Lloyd Webber. Perhaps the easiest and cheapest record to get hold of is Nicholas Braithwaite's LP recording of Overture to a Greek Tragedy which was recorded for Lyrita in 1984.
The most eagerly sought-after recordings are those made by the composer himself in the Kingsway Hall on 15th November 1945 just 11 months before his death and which were originally released as Paxton 12" 78s. These are rare and you will be lucky to come across them. The works in question are The Frogs: Comedy Overture (GTRl01), Two Heroic Ballads (GTR102), Hebridean Sea Poems: Caristiona; The Sea Reivers (GTR102-3), and King Solomon: Processional (GTR1O4). If you come across copies grab them even if it entails foregoing the summer holiday! Only the first of these recordings was ever re-issued, when it was coupled with Walter Collins's London Promenade Orchestra recording of the Celtic Symphony and Dolf van der Linden and the Metropole Symphony Orchestra's Woman's Festival Overture on a Paxton 10" mono LP (GTRl2l). Copies of this do turn up for sale occasionally and should not be too expensive either, though as GB gains in popularity prices are sure to increase. Dolf van der Linden also recorded The Birds: Comedy Overture and Macbeth: Overture released together on another Paxton 10" mono LP (GTR120).
Walter Collins released a set of GB works on Paxton 10" LPs: Circus Life: Overture (PR4lO), Fairy Gold: Incidental Music (PR440), King Lear: Overture (PR5OO), and especially the lovely Four Chinese Landscapes (GTRl 18-9) are very much worth keeping an eye out for.
Bar one tiny item, namely Mazurka from Russian Scenes recorded by Fernand Heurteur and the Lutetia Wagram Orchestra for Columbia (D19267), the only other orchestral recording of note, as far as is known, is Sir Henry Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra recording of Pierrot of the Minute found on a Columbia 12" 78 (L1463).
In the last years of his life GB did write a set of short pieces for Paxton's set of 'Mood Music' discs which were recorded by Anthony Collins conducting the London Promenade Orchestra. They have intriguingly exotic titles such as Cobweb Castle, Desert Caravan, Oriental Serenade, Twilight Memories, and Storm at Sea and if ever there is a TV series entailing such scenes and requiring a musical setting they might be just the ticket re-recorded. They are 'light' impressionistic miniatures and, taken for what they are, contain some very enjoyable items, and there are some fun moments: but some have been described as 'excruciating' and certainly they are not GB at his most serious or his most deeply expressive.
If you like Bantock and brass then there a few vinyl issues to look out for. The Frogs: Overture (arr. D.Wright) was recorded by Sir Harry Mortimer with the Fairey Aviation Works Band and the CWS Band and both were released on LP; the former originally appeared as a 10" 78. Prometheus Unbound, available on CD, also first appeared on a 78 with Sir Harry this time conducting Foden's Motor Works Band, and he later recorded it with the CWS Band too. Solna Brass and the celebrated Black Dyke Mills Band have also done versions. The latter have also issued Foggy Dew and the Fairey Aviation Works Band conducted by C. Lamb released Land of the Ever-Young on LP. Fanfare for a Royal Occasion can also be found on an old HMV 12" 78 played by the Kneller Hall Musicians conducted by Captain Adkins.
A couple of GB's choral works have also appeared on vinyl. Apart from the Orpheus Choirs's celebrated recordings previously mentioned and which are now available on CD, Walter Collins's London Promenade Choir and Orchestra Paxton 78s containing Elfin Revels and Lure of the Isles (PRT462), Island Enchantment (PR441)may be mentioned; but especially noteworthy is GB's delightful arrangement of one of Kennedy-Fraser's Hebridean songs, Sea Longing (PR460). Other celebrated choirs have included several different GB arrangements in their recorded recitals, too numerous to mention here: but one real choral find would be Standford Robinson and the National Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra's recording of two pieces from GB's Pilgrim's Progress released on a Columbia 12" 78 (9894).
Recordings of GB's songs and arrangements are many and have appeared on a number of recitals, including those by the likes of John McCormack and Kenneth McKellar and are well worth seeking out in second-hand record and charity shops as they can be picked up very cheaply if you are willing to look hard and long enough. Paul Franklin and his Orchestra recorded two Russian songs arranged by GB which appeared on a Paxton 78 (PR663) but this is much rarer.
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