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Sir Granville 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])
Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite (Bantock)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Holbrooke, Rootham)
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, January 1979 (Bantock), Henry Wood Hall, London September 1976 (Holbrooke, Rootham). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.269 [62:30]

One 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.
Nicholas 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.
Josef 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.
Cyril 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.
This 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.
The 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.
Em Marshall

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and John France

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