I think we can take it for granted that the songs culled
from Bantock's many series have been judiciously chosen. Most of us
are still in a state of shock that Dutton should have launched the Epoch
series at all. That it should have flourished and already have borne
three Bantock discs is a delightful trauma. The discs of the cello
sonatas (CDLX7107) and violin
sonatas (CDLX7119) are new recordings.
There is also an
historic collection which includes the partial survival of extracts
from The Song of Songs and the pristinely Sibelian Chinese
Pictures for small orchestra. The fastidious watercolours of those
orchestral pictures carries over into the Chinese Songs [trs1-5] A
Dream of Spring, Adrift and Desolation. The same flavour
carries over into Pippa Passes (tr.14). It is but a small
step from this to the Celtic world of At the Rising of the Moon.
The Singer in the Woods (Savidge this time) against swirling
Medtnerian figures traces the regretful song in loving delicacy though
not erasing memories of Brian Rayner Cook’s BBC broadcast of the song
in 1982. Rigby (already well known for her excellent Bax songs) who
is often ripely operatic in tone and delivery makes something extremely
special of Song to the Seals with its graceful call 'Hoi-ran,
oi-ran, oi-ro'. This takes us to distant skerries and cold northern
dazzle; in fact to the realms of Bantock's Hebridean Symphony.
Peter Savidge has long had a sturdy voice of ringing
oaken quality. I recall his broadcasts of songs by Cyril Scott and of
John Ireland. It was Ireland's swinging ballad, Great Things that
came to mind when listening to him in Captain Harry Morgan. The
Morgan song is a light piece built for and twice recorded by
Peter Dawson. It is not the sort of drinking song that Warlock and Moeran
might have made of it (not that he would not stoop to that sort of thing
- listen to the Hafiz Drinking Song - not a glimmer of Oriental
fragrance there). Instead it is stirring and brilliantly coloured -
a case of 'Devon, O Devon in wind and rain'. Listen also to the Iberian
curlicues when the song reminds us of Morgan's Spanish light of love.
It is rather like Stanford in Drake's Drum though with less of
a narrative; more an idealised celebration of Morgan's character. This
is Bantock's stab at commercial success - and why not.
The first group comprises five songs selected from
the numerous sets of Chinese Songs. A Feast of Lanterns is one
of those gale-tormented songs with a fast shuddering piano part calling
for and receiving an operatic storm of a voice in Jean Rigby. Bantock
finds time for a reminiscence of his setting of Omar Khayyam (1.03).
A Dream of Spring is a plaintive effort with swirls and most
oddly a tune of a Celtic curve.
The two regretful Jester ballads (Savidge) are
more Germanic, lightened by Sullivan gestures and troubadour harp evocations.
Gurney meets Schumann in the Celtic song: In the hollows of quiet
It is interesting how the piano parts take the impress
of the dramatic and poetic Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky when triumphant
or tormented. Listen to the impetuous romantic tempest that ends the
first Ghazal of Hafiz (tr. 1). David Owen Norris is a most sympathetic
and imaginative pianist who is an equal in this enterprise.
The Ghost Road has Peter Savidge in an expressionistic
setting that takes us close to the shores of Schoenberg's Songs of
the Hanging Gardens complete with sinister skittering rats and moonlit
atmosphere. This is Bantock hymning the passing of empires amid their
ruins - perhaps 'Jamshid drank deep' - yet another Omar reference.
Bantock is good at philosophical schadenfreude at the transient
magnificence of powers and principalities as in Ozymandias. Compare
this exploration of the desolation of greatness with Finzi's Flecker
setting of To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence where friendship
reaches across the centuries. It was not the first time that Bantock
traversed such territory. He set several Omar stanzas that reflect
amid desert ruins on transitory kingdoms. Savidge, by the way, would,
while in his current voice, make the natural baritone choice if ever
one of the companies launches a complete (and I mean truly complete)
Omar Khayyam. Less improbably perhaps there is some prospect
of a recording of the orchestral songs. We already have Sappho
from Hyperion. There are plenty more including complete cycles such
as the Ghazals of Hafiz, various Browning sets, the Celtic Songs
and much else. By the way the Five Ghazals were broadcast on
15 December 1937 in the orchestral version by Harold Williams with the
BBCSO conducted by that staunch Holbrooke and Bantock champion, Clarence
There are some very strong songs here often passionate
though essentially rooted in the late romantics: nothing of fake-arty
medievalism: nothing of Housman pastoralism; nothing of Van Dieren or
Sorabjian harmonic complexity. Of course there are some more conventional
songs too as in The Bluebell Wood (tr. 21) but as Lewis Foreman
concedes, amid 400 songs, there are bound to be some misfires and time-servers.
There is some history of recordings of Bantock songs.
The most recent is the private issue by the Bantock Society of cassettes
of concert performances of quite a few songs in which the singer Anne
Collins is accompanied by Hamburger. John McCormack recorded Love’s
Secret, Desolation and Dream of Spring. Olga Haley
is preserved in Easter Hymn. Leila Megane recorded Invocation
to the Nile. Feast of Lanterns is familiar to me because
it was broadcast by Fiona Dobie with David Owen Norris in the 1980s.
Lewis Foreman, whose research, selection, concept and
implementation is represented by this disc, tells us that Bantock had
260 songs published and there are a further 117 unpublished. Surely
there will be further anthologies. I hope so. Perhaps in a decade or
two we will look back from the superior vantage point of Hyperion's
complete Bantock Song Edition and wonder about the wisdom of cherry-picking
songs out of their set and cycle contexts. For now we can welcome with
joy this extremely generous and handsomely produced and documented disc.
By the way I need to compliment Dutton on their booklet
notes. These notes are rapidly meriting inclusion in any self-respecting
research bibliography. The scholarship strikes me as being of the highest
standard the only lapse being the spelling of Thalaber which
should be Thalaba - the reference is to the Southey-inspired
Whither away now Epochal pilgrim? The Bantock viola
sonata awaits; not to mention the acreage of GB’s solo piano music.
This is a fulsome collection of unrestrainedly
romantic songs often the equal of Strauss, Korngold and Zemlinsky though
hardly ever as subtle as Schoeck. Highlights: Song to the Seals,
A Feast of Lanterns, Pippa Passes, Captain Harry Morgan.
May the Bantock Estate continue to flourish and record yet more of the
music of this fantastically prolific, subtle and potent emissary of
See also The Bantock Society