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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 Op. 87 (1923) [15:50]
Cyril ROOTHAM (1875-1938)

Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1932) [30:57]
* Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. January 1979, Kingsway Hall (Holbrooke); September 1976, Henry Wood Hall (Rootham, Bantock). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.269 [62.30]

Experience Classicsonline

 

In my recent review of the Solti Rheingold on the Decca Originals label, I wondered if the recording really was as good as I remembered it from its LP incarnation – had time lent it a false enchantment? In the event, I need not have worried – it’s every bit as good as I remembered and the only version to which I can listen without serious reservation.

Holbrooke’s The Birds of Rhiannon and the Rootham symphony present the opposite phenomenon. Soon after Lyrita issued the LP of these works a colleague, who made a speciality of collecting recordings of jazz and British and American 20th century music, loaned me his copy. The music made so little impact on me that I have thought of the Holbrooke ever since in terms of ‘nice title, shame about the music.’ I’m afraid I put Patrick Hadley’s The Trees so High on another Lyrita LP in the same category.

The return of this recording has already been welcomed by RB – see review – and JF – see review. I’m not going to repeat what they have already said so well. In fact, it was their recommendations that made me return to the Holbrooke and Rootham works, which I had written off thirty years ago.

Maybe it’s the new work which begins the recording, Bantock’s Overture to a Greek Tragedy which puts me in the right mood now to respond to the other pieces; it’s a different work from the jolly Pierrot of the Minute, the only Bantock piece with which most people are familiar, but none the worse for its seriousness. I don’t want to make the piece sound like an academic exercise: it’s serious but attractive music – you don’t have to know anything about the Sophocles play to which the title attaches it – and the performance and recording are all that could be wished.

After the comparative unity of the Bantock, The Birds of Rhiannon still sounds rhapsodic, but I respond to it much more favourably now. It isn’t that I have come to like rhapsodic music more than I did then – I’ve always had a soft spot, for example, for Balakirev’s First Symphony, ever since I bought the Beecham LP of that work with a record token given to me for my 21st birthday. (A long time ago, I fear.) Perhaps it’s just Beecham’s advocacy of the music: my wife always complains that it doesn’t ‘go anywhere’, but that’s not the point – even if it doesn’t, Beecham somehow makes the non-journey highly attractive and it’s high time that EMI restored this wonderful recording to the catalogue.

Nor is it the Celtic mythology from the Mabinogion that puts me off – in fact, that’s what I missed the first time round. Now, perhaps because I have more leisure to listen than when I was a very busy deputy head of a large school, I can hear that the mythology is inherent in the music in much the same way that it is in Bax’s Tintagel. It’s less immediate than it is in the Bax, and I can’t pretend even now that the music is in the same league as Tintagel, but it is well brought out in this performance and the recording, like that of the Bantock, wears its years very lightly.

Nor can I pretend that the Rootham symphony is in quite the same league as those of Vaughan Williams or Bax’s middle symphonies, numbers 3-5, but it now seems much more worthwhile than it did thirty years ago and I am sure that the performance and recording are, once again, instrumental in persuading me.

Hadley’s The Trees so High has also been reissued by Lyrita (SRCD.238 – see RB’s review). Perhaps the time is overdue for me to reassess that work, too, in the light of RB’s enthusiasm. I ought to listen to his advice more often – only when he urged me to listen to the Lyrita recordings of Bax’s first two symphonies did I find the performances that I’d been looking for.

The only thing that makes me hesitate is that, with too many duplications already in an over-full CD collection, it comes with Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality – a beautiful work, but I already have two versions of it. Maybe the Chandos 2-for-1CD set is the answer to redressing the balance here (CHAN241-22, a Recording of the Month, coupled with other Hadley works and music by Philip Sainton – see review.)

Perhaps I’d better try James MacMillan’s more recent work, also entitled The Birds of Rhiannon on Chandos, too, some time – a golden opportunity to get to know better a composer with whom I have yet to come fully to terms. (CHAN9997 with the Magnificat – a Musicweb Recording of the Month: see CT’s review).

This is one of many Lyrita recordings which are also available from eMusic as good quality downloads. Oddly, the bit-rate varies from track to track but nothing is less than 224kbps and the opening and closing tracks are at the highest possible mp3 rate of 320kbps. I certainly found nothing to complain of in terms of sound quality. You do miss the notes, of course, but the two Musicweb reviews to which I have referred above will repair much of that loss. With the zeal of a recent convert I recommend that you give this music the chance that I denied it thirty years ago.

Brian Wilson

 

 

 

 


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