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Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868–1946)
Omar Khayyám - The Ruba’iyat according to Edward Fitzgerald set to Music for Three Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orchestra in Three Parts (1906-1909) cond.Vernon Handley
rec. Watford Colosseum (Town Hall), 1-2 October 2005, 17-18 February 2007
Three CDs for the price of two
This is a hybrid SACD and was played and reviewed in standard CD format.
Full notes in English, German and French. Sung words in English only.
CHANDOS CHSA 5051(3) [3 CDs: 58:14 + 73:08 + 40:09]

CD 1: Part I (beginning) [58:14]
CD 2: Part I (conclusion), Part II [73:08]
CD 3: Part III [40:09]
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo) (The Beloved)
Toby Spence (tenor) (The Poet)
Roderick Williams (baritone) (The Philosopher)
Olivia Robinson (soprano) (First Pot)
Siân Menna (mezzo) (Second Pot)
Edward Price (bass) (Sixth Pot)
BBC Symphony Chorus/Stephen Jackson
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley

Take these ingredients: a bit of likable and charming Richard Strauss, a little Edward Elgar (less than you’d expect), Pfitznerian phrases here and there, camel bells (!), and Edward Fitzgerald’s Victorian translation of the poems of an eleventh-century Persian astronomer and mathematician. The result is Sir Granville Ransome Bantock’s Omar Khayyám – a three-part, three hour oratorio set in a mélange of exotic sounds from the Middle East and the European imagination of what the Middle East might be like.

It’s a fabulously audacious, glittering, gleaming work for gargantuan orchestra, three solo voices and chorus. It took Bantock from 1906 to 1909 to put this dramatic oratorio about the "transience of existence" together. Throughout its various parts I hear different musical influences or accidental similarities. Apart from the above-mentioned composers there are notes of Russian opera one minute, then a Meistersingerish or otherwise Wagnerian vocal line the next, and here and there hints of Pfitzner’s (1920) Eichendorff Cantata.

The work lulls significantly toward the end … a pleasantly wafting English pastoral dreamery … and more hints of C.M. von Weber, Elgar, and sweeping film music. To sit down for the whole three hours that the work lasts and read along the four-line verses, and perhaps even pick out the leitmotifs that Bantock employs - Ernest Newman identified them and their exact appearances are meticulously noted in the generous liner notes - is a most rewarding joy.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays astonishingly well, with unexpected cohesion and passion. The Chorus, Catherin Wyn-Rogers (mezzo), Toby Spence (tenor), and Roderick Williams (baritone) contribute their parts to make this premiere recording an outstanding and compelling contribution to the ever-growing Bantock discography. Contributing most to that growth is that indomitable champion of good-but-neglected British music, Vernon Handley. This recording is yet another step toward most deserved knighthood for him. The Chandos sound on this hybrid-SACD is outstanding.

Jens F. Laurson


see also review by Rob Barnett


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