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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
The Song of Songs - Prelude (1926)
Omar Khayyam - Prelude and Camel Caravan (1906)
Caristiona (1920)
Processional (1893)
Thalaba the Destroyer - symphonic poem (1899)
RPO/Vernon Handley
rec 20-21 Feb 2001, Walthamstow Assembly Halls, London - DDD
HYPERION CDA 67250 [76.50]

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The record catalogue for Bantock has been transformed out of all recognition from the position in 1983 (the dawn of the CD). At that time you were restricted to one side of a Lyrita vinyl, a Gough and Davey LP of a (pretty accomplished) school orchestra playing the Hebridean and another on which the Sapphic Poem appeared. If you were very adventurous you , might have tracked down the abysmal sounding US pirate LP (Aries) of the Pagan as played by the 'Versailles SO/Claude Dupré' (a pseudonym for a BBC orchestra and conductor).

There is still a very long way to go but now there are with five Hyperions, two Duttons (and a third on the way) as well as odd issues from other labels including a long deleted desirable coupling (Intaglio INCD704-1) of radio broadcasts of the Pagan and Hebridean symphonies - snap up the latter if you see it.

This latest Hyperion issue is in the same regal tradition as the other issues in the series. There is no compromise in any compartment of this project.

From the "Star Trek meets Beethoven Ninth" opening, Processional tracks its Tchaikovskian way with confident assertion. It is one of those intense and breast-beating works with a stormy hint of Finlandia and Kullervo about its pages. Listen to the passage at 3.40 and those upward sweeping woodwind slashes and also at 3.54 to the echoing dialogue of string and woodwind. These moments are pure Sibelius. At 4.37 we hear the Tchaikovsky of Onegin.

The earliest of the works in this collection, Processional is based on Robert Southey's piece of fake orientalism The Curse of Kehama. It was to have been the first of twenty-four tone poems (ah! the confident ambition of youth) but apart from Jaga-Naut this is probably all that viably survives. It is in works such as Thalaba and this that we see the cultural stream also traceable in the works of Arthur Farwell (The Gods of the Mountains after Dunsany), the brilliant Belgian Rimsky-epigone Adolphe Biarent (Contes d'Orient on Cyprès CYP7605), Griffes' Pleasure Dome, Freitas Branco's Vathek, and, in its imaginative use of colour and melody, the much later Benjamin Dale tone poem The Flowing Tide (studio recorded by the BBC and still awaiting broadcast).

Caristiona is scored with fastidious delicacy for flute, horn, harp and oboe and solos abound. Classic fm should promptly take this up - it is such a delightful piece. The music is quasi-regretful, a tracery of romance enlivened by small peaks of determination. It is almost as fragile as the Four Chinese Landscapes.

Thalaba was the first of six tone poems written at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. Bantock revised them ten years later. They are each (as far as we know them) heavily indebted to Tchaikovsky in character and instrumental twist. The inclination in this Russian direction and away from Brahms was fostered by Frederick Corder presiding at the Royal Academy. Exactly like Joseph Holbrooke, another product of the Academy, Bantock peppered his scores with signposts from the poem or drama that prompted the work. Lewis Foreman gives us the signposts and the plot though rather like Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and Francesca the plot is almost irrelevant to musical enjoyment. Thalaba grows on you. It makes little effect on the listener first time around but try again and each time it grows. Put this work in the same category as Tchaikovsky's lesser tone poems like Hamlet, The Storm and Voyevode - more Hamlet that Voyevode but not as incandescent as Francesca or as memorable as Romeo. Think of it in similar terms to the Novak's Godiva (Chandos) and Fibich's and Dvorak's Erben-themed melodramas and tone poems. It is a very good work with a dark proclivity taken from Dvorak's New World (try the opening) and some real witchery along the way. It is rather more inspired and lapel-tugging than the rhapsodic wanderings of Fifine and The Witch of Atlas. Handley plays this as if he were directing Francesca or Romeo. Just right!

We have already heard a selection from the post-Omar Song of Songs on Dutton's historical Bantock anthology. It is, self-evidently, a major work. The 11.40 prelude to this two and a half hour work dates from 1912 and the rest of it was not done and dusted until 7 October 1926. It is laid out for six solo voices, chorus and orchestra. Bantock follows the biblical story concentrating predictably enough on the exotic/erotic text without straining at the Christian exegesis that has the sensuous tale as a metaphor for the passion of God's people for His church. The music is sultry but lacks the etched memorability of the Omar music. Speaking of which the pause between the end of this track and the start of the Omar prelude is inadequate. This should, if possible, be corrected for the Helios reissue in 2010.

The Omar Prelude and Camel Caravan run together for circa 18 minutes but, knowing the almost complete work (two and three quarter hours of it) from the Del Mar BBC Radio 3 revival of 1979, the Handley RPO version is on a low flame. This simmers rather than blazes. Del Mar made more of it. You will not feel the loss if you do not know the BBC tape. That tape, by the way, is still clamantly in search of a record company with means to meet the cost of the artist royalties and licence fees. The distant stertorous brass fanfares of The Caravan remind us of the dawn fanfares from Delius's music for Hassan. I wonder which anonymous choir sings in the Caravan music.

As is usual the listening experience gains savour through Lewis Foreman's liner notes. The whole project would have been nothing without Foreman's guiding hand and the work of Rodney Stephen Newton (a regular contractor in the musical reanimation market) in preparing the full score of Thalaba.

What of the next volume? Will there be one? If there is I have high hopes of one that includes The Four Chinese Landscapes (1936 - superbly atmospheric music in a Sibelian vein), Aphrodite in Cyprus (1939), The Land of the Gael (1915), Coronach (1918), From the Far West (1912), Scenes From the Scottish Highlands (1913), Overture to a Greek Tragedy (1911 - dedicated to Sibelius - Sibelius had dedicated his Third Symphony to Bantock - an overture memorably recorded on Lyrita LP) and Prelude to Euripides' Bacchae (1945). I hope that Hyperion will make some brave choices as they now have a captive Bantock audience ready to snap up the next instalment whatever it may be. The most valiant of choices would be to record Omar. It desperately needs to be done and wisdom would suggest that the digital tape of the 1979 Del Mar broadcast should be secured. That performance seemed close to perfection in every department. Bantock's music blossoms in young and sensitive hands. There is no room for insensitive wobbling vibrato or dynamic monotony.

Hyperion should take a deep bow for this latest Bantock salvo which is remarkably strong meat especially in the case of Thalaba and Caristiona.

Rob Barnett

BANTOCK ON HYPERION

Celtic Symphony, Hebridean Symphony, Witch of Atlas, Sea Reivers CDA66450

Cyprian Goddess, Dante and Beatrice, Helena Variations CDA66810

Pagan Symphony, Fifine at the Fair, Cuchulan's Lament, Kishmul's Galley CDA66630

Sappho Prelude and nine fragments; Sapphic Poem CDA66899

The Bantock Society web pages are held byMusicWeb


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