BANTOCK (1868-1946) Overture to a Greek Tragedy: Oedipus at Colonus (1911)
[15:40] Josef HOLBROOKE (1878-1958) The Birds of Rhiannon [15:50] Cyril ROOTHAM (1875-1938)
Symphony No. 1 (1932) [30:57]
(Adagio – Allegro ritmico [7:45]; Adagio molto
(alla Marcia) [8:40]; Scherzo Allegro molto [7:08]; Allegro
con spirito [7:24])
Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite (Bantock)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Holbrooke,
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, January 1979 (Bantock), Henry
Wood Hall, London September 1976 (Holbrooke, Rootham).
of the wonderful recent Lyrita releases of old recordings,
this disc includes a rare performance of Cyril Rootham’s
First Symphony, preceded by Bantock’s Overture to a Greek
Tragedy and Holbrooke’s The Birds of Rhiannon.
Braithwaite conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Bantock,
recorded in 1979. The Overture to a Greek Tragedy was
written in 1911 and based on Sophocles’s masterly tragedy Oedipus
at Colonus. Bantock was a lover of myth and legend from
all round the world, and although a great Orientalist, classical
and Celtic themes also held much fascination for him. This
fairly substantial overture combines classical poise and
typically Bantockian epic romanticism. The performance is
very good – the sound is clear and immediate, and Braithwaite
captures an excellent sense of menace in the opening. It
is faster, more exhilarating, and has a greater sense of
urgency than Handley and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
on the Hyperion label.
Holbrooke was akin to Bantock in his predilection for composing
works on an epic scale, full of lush romanticism. Yet his
inspiration came from slightly closer to home - he wrote
long, Wagnerian operas on Welsh legends and composed symphonic
poems “after” Edgar Allan Poe. The Birds of Rhiannon is
also a symphonic poem of sorts, based on the legend of the
Celtic goddess. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted
by Vernon Handley (in 1976). Although the playing is excellent,
this performance is not quite as atmospheric or haunting
as the slightly rawer, more tense, faster (and slightly less
slushy) Marco Polo recording with Andrew Penny and the National
Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.
Rootham’s First Symphony in C minor was composed in 1932
when Rootham, as well as conducting and composing, was Fellow
and organist at St John’s College, Cambridge and University
Lecturer to the Cambridge University Music Society.
recording was also made in 1976 and it is a compelling performance.
The opening Adagio – Allegro ritmico makes impressive
and dramatic noises - this movement seems to be full of themes
rather than actual tunes, which some listeners may not mind,
but I found just slightly trying. It is followed by a slow,
spacious Adagio molto, full of brooding melancholy
and lyrical beauty. A lively and characterful, well-orchestrated Scherzo – Allegro
molto – lightens the mood, and the work concludes with
an Allegro con spirito. This is heralded by a fanfare
very similar to that which opened the first movement, and
abounds with agreeably folk-like tunes. On the whole I found
this a pleasant if not always entirely convincing work.
disc is one I highly recommend. The versions of the Bantock
and Holbrooke are excellent and it was fascinating to hear
the Rootham, of which the London Philharmonic Orchestra and
Handley give a top-rate performance.
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