Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
King Lear - overture (1932) [13.59]
Kubla Khan (1933) [7.45]
Prometheus Unbound - symphonic prelude (1933) [8.57]
The Land-of-the-Ever-Young (1946) [6.19]
The Frogs - comedy overture (1935 arr 1952) [9.27]
Orion - dramatic overture (1935) [13.72]
Festival March (1914) [6.57]
Salford University Brass Band/Dr Roy Newsome
rec. Maxwell Hall, Salford University, no date given. DDD
DOYEN Master Series DOYCD109 [66.40]
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SPS, 1 Tiverton St, London SE1 6NT. Phone 020 7367 6570; fax: 020 7367 6589.

I owe it to Lewis Foreman that I know about this disc at all. It represents one part of the modestly rising tide of Bantock's music now accessible to the listening public.

Classical listeners may be tempted to look down their noses at the brass band world. I hope that anyone tempted to do so might be dissuaded by this and by many other Doyen releases. The world is a lot fuller of Bantock CDs than it ever used to be but one can hardly claim that it is a crowded market. This one fleshes things out rather well. The inspirations of these pieces also provides a neat summation of Bantock's range of literary kindling. The oriental side is catered for by Kubla Khan (other related works include Omar Khayyam, The Song of Songs, a dozen or more volumes of Chinese songs and the masterly Four Chinese Pictures). The Gaelic-Caledonian side is reflected in The Land-of-the-Ever-Young in the same world as the Hebridean and Celtic symphonies and many partsongs. Mediterranean mythology: Prometheus, Cyprian Goddess, The Frogs and Orion. The Shakespearian ‘line’ takes in works such as Macbeth as well as the current King Lear.

Kubla Khan: Mixing Tchaikovskianisms (4.08) with Slav atmosphere this piece is replete with echoes of Bantock’s masterwork: the choral/orchestral triptych Omar Khayyam. There is an Oriental dance at 4.58 which sounds somewhat like Holst's Beni Mora. This work is an orchestration of the six-part choral song of the same name from 1912. The original was written at his inventive perigee.

Prometheus Unbound is shot through with morbid and tragic feelings which relate to the writing to Mussorgsky. When the clouds break and sunlit singing intervenes there remains a distinctly Russian feeling as at 2.23. Such an alignment is typical of one of Frederick Corder's pupil's at the Royal Academy of Music. The R.A.M. pupils such as Bantock, Holbrooke, Bax, Benjamin Dale and Paul Corder favoured Tchaikovsky over Brahms, Wagner over Beethoven, Sibelius and Balakirev over Bruckner.

The Land-of-the-Ever-Young (Tir-nan-Og) was one of the paradises of the ancient Celtic peoples alongside Hy-Brasil and Moy Mell. Bantock busied himself with such worlds though probed nowhere near as deeply as Arnold Bax whose sincere spirituality and fantasy can be heard in the triptych of the last three symphonies (especially the great Sixth) as well as in Fand, Tintagel and The Faery Hills. This was his last brass band work written in the year of his death. It is more of a gentle fantasy by a master of brass writing than a visionary-mystic 'ave atque vale'.

As mentioned above, the Greek mythological world drew Bantock's ever-questing attention. The Frogs was but one of the Aristophanes plays for which he wrote 'comedy overtures'. The others from the early 1940s included The Birds and Women's Festival and all were recorded in their original orchestral ‘cloth’ on Paxton 78s. The Wasps seems to have been left alone for Vaughan Williams. This, as with the other two by Bantock, is a comedy overture being written for orchestra in 1935. It was scored for brass band by Frank Wright in 1952 six years after Bantock's death. It is a an athletic and relatively uncomplicated Tchaikovskian fantasy with much silvery work and very finely contrived orchestration. Wright's arrangement has kept the work alive.

Orion is termed a ‘tragic overture’ and certainly it has a bitter grimace and a restlessness quite absent from King Lear. Lear by comparison hardly ruffles the emotions giving us some relaxed Tchaikovskian gestures (3.49) closer to the Fifth Symphony than the roller-coaster of the Fourth. Orion: After a Tchaikovskian fate motif spat out defiantly there is some gloomy writing worthy of Balakirev's Thamar. Silvery soprano brass playing contrasts with gruff Sibelian rumblings, rebuffs and assaults. This work has the serious mien and terse originality of the Sophoclean orchestral Overture to a Greek Tragedy (once brilliantly recorded on a Lyrita SRCS LP).

Bantock, rather like Holbrooke, had to be something of a journeyman. If commissions came they were to be valued. The Festival March was written for the Independent Labour Party movement and is his first brass band work. The march bustles along sunnily, animated and smiling, not desperately profound but certainly celebratory. Dvořák and Smetana are the reference points.

This disc comes from a company with a firm brass band heritage. This probably accounts for a number of presentational matters. The conductor is referred to as Dr Roy Newsome. His academic qualifications are quoted on the back of the CD and in the insert. Allowing for ‘Sir’ this or ‘Sir’ that, when did we last see a classical CD making something of the style 'Dr' or quoting academic qualifications for a conductor? The other minor observation relates to the prominence given to the name of the band over the name of the composer. This is not the natural way with the classical recording world. The emphasis is reversed for the back of the booklet and the rear insert of the CD case. A very minor cavil.

I do hope that Doyen will venture forth into classical waters again. It would be good to hear them in a second Bantock brass collection. Also of great interest would be a recording of Arthur Butterworth's brass symphony - Odin. Other projects I would ask them to consider include the brass band marches of Prokofiev, the brass band works of Maurice Johnstone and the hyper-romantic Rhapsody for piano and brass by Gordon Jacob. The Jacob is a whirlwind of a piano concerto set in a heroic romantic mode: glorious but unrecorded.

The background and details for each work are extremely well put across in Roy Newsome's notes. This is a delightful disc which is warmly recommended to fans of the heritage of the British musical renaissance and to Bantock's worldwide following,

Rob Barnett

se also review by Chris Thomas

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