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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
Songs from the Chinese Poets (1917-33): A Feast of Lanterns (Yuan Mei) (1917); The Ghost Road (Tu Fu); A Dream of Spring (Ts'En Ts'An); Adrift (Li Po); Desolation (Kao-Shih).
Captain Harry Morgan (John Marley) (1928)
Jester Songs (Helen Bantock): In Tyme of Olde; Serenade (1921)
Drinking Song: Hafiz to the Sultan Timour (Helen Bantock)
Celtic Songs (Fiona Macleod): At the rising of the moon; In the hollow of quiet places
The Singer in the Woods (Fiona Macleod) (1920)
Song to the Seals (Harold Boulton) (1920)
Ghazals of Hafiz (translated Sir Edwin Arnold): Álá ya! Send the Cup Round; Oh! Glory of Full-mooned Fairness (1907)
Pippa Passes (Browning) (1922)
A Woman's Last Words (Browning) (1922)
I Go to Prove my Soul (Browning) (1922)
Invocation to the Nile (Helen Bantock)
The Moon Maiden's Song (Dowson) (1921)
The Bluebell Wood (Alfred Hayes) (1919)
Ozymandias (Shelley) (1924)
Jean Rigby (mezzo)
Peter Savidge (bar)
David Owen Norris (piano)
rec. 1-3 Sept 2001, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
DUTTON CDLX 7121 [77.19]


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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 places.

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 Raybould.

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 tone poem.

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 melody.

Rob Barnett

See also The Bantock Society



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