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OF THE MONTH
Ritchie Symphony 4
OF THE MONTH
Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
A Celtic Symphony - for string orchestra and six
harps (1944) [20:04]
The Witch of Atlas - tone poem no. 5 after Shelley
The Sea Reivers - Hebridean Sea Poem No. 2 (1917)
A Hebridean Symphony (1913) [35:08]
Pagan Symphony (Et in Arcadia vixi) (1923-28)
Fifine at the Fair - A Defence of Inconstancy (1912)
Cuchullan's Lament - Heroic Ballad No. 1 (1944)
Kishmul's Galley - Heroic Ballad No. 2 (1944) [4:26]
The Cyprian Goddess - Symphony No. 3 (1938-39) [24:23]
The Helena Variations - Original Variations on the
theme HFB (1899) [19:25]
Dante and Beatrice - Poem for orchestra (1901 rev.
Sappho - Prelude and Nine Fragments for mezzo and
orchestra (1900-07) [60:19]
Sapphic Poem for cello and orchestra (1912) [14:57]
Prelude to The Song of Songs (1923) [11:40]
Prelude to Omar Khayyam (1906) [6:36]
Camel Caravan from Omar Khayyam (1906) [7:56]
Caristiona - Hebridean Sea Poem No. 1 (1920) [9:31]
Processional - Orchestral Scene No. 1 (1894) [14:40]
Thalaba The Destroyer (1894) [26:05]
Overture to a Greek Tragedy (1911) [17:54]
The Wilderness and the Solitary Place (1903-7) [6:19]
Pierrot of the Minute - Comedy Overture (1908) [12:11]
The Song of Songs (excerpts): Second Day; Third
Day; Fifth Day (1915-1926) [41:00]
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello) (Sapphic Poem)
Elizabeth Connell (soprano) (Wilderness; Song of
Kim Begley (tenor) (Song of Songs)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. All Hallows, Gospel Oak, 21-22 August 1990 (CD1); 6-7
August 1992 (CD2); 16-17 May 1995 (CD3); 10-11 February,
10 May 1997 (CD4); Walthamstow Assembly Halls, 20-21 February
2001 (CD5); Watford Colosseum, 1-2 April 2003 (CD6). DDD
Originally issued on individual CDs as: CDA66450 (CD1);
CDA66630 (CD2); CDA66810 (CD3); CDA66899 (CD4); CDA67250 (CD5);
CDS44281-6 [6 CDs: 448:09]
What an achievement this
is! Twenty-one lavishly late-romantic works for orchestra
in one six CD box at mid-price or better. This is music of
one of Britain's most prolific and rewarding yet most neglected
of romantic composers.
It is only
when a company decides to issue a boxed collection such as
this that the accumulated value what has been recorded over
a decade can be fully appreciated. It serves to hammer home
the message that in recent times no one has done as much
for Bantock as Hyperion. The only downside is that this probably
signals the end of the Bantock Project for Hyperion; I speculate
but it certainly seems that way.
travels worldwide and makes, breaks and consolidates musical
reputations. In the CD age Bantock could hardly have had
better advocacy on the world stage than it has had from Handley,
the RPO and Hyperion – a top-flight luxury team if ever there
was one. Other companies - notably Dutton and Chandos with
Khayyam - have pushed out the Bantock boundaries.
Yet none has chalked up anything even halfway matching the
Hyperion achievement in that most expensive of media: the
stars rather unluckily had his centenary year (1968) fall
slap-bang in the middle of the most unpropitious cultural
period. What would a musical world focused on dissonance,
exclusivity and novelty make of this tumultuously productive
orchestral writer of tone poems, ballads and songs. The reception
was all too predictable. He was ignored by the many; condemned
by the few who found time to bother. His music was considered
an irrelevance to a new age. He was not alone in this: indifference
and spleen greeted the likes of Josef Suk, Adolphe Biarent
and Arthur Farwell.
outposts from which Bantock was saluted but they were not
numerous. There were articles in ‘Music and Musicians’ and
various other music magazines. Harold Truscott and Stephen
Lloyd wrote articles and gave broadcast talks. Boult, Del
Mar and Handford directed BBC studio broadcasts of Overture
to a Greek Tragedy, the Pagan and Hebridean symphonies
and extracts from Omar and Sappho. The reel-to-reel
tape machines of the era - Philips, Grundig, Ferrograph,
Vortexion, Akai, Sony and Sanyo - whirred away as recording
angels and we can still enjoy some of that legacy.
recordings were few and far between - the most accessible
being Beecham's classic HMV version of Fifine at the Fair with
the RPO and Jack Brymer taking the luscious clarinet solo.
You might pick up some other recordings if you could find
his Paxton 78s of mood music (many now reissued by Dutton)
or the hideously rare Paxton 10" LP of the Celtic
Symphony or the occasional song perhaps sung by Kenneth
McKellar or a choral treat from the Glasgow Orpheus with
Kenneth Roberton. It was otherwise a wasteland.
as a person was steadfast, literate, kindly, expansive in
his generosity, amorous, fascinated by all aspects of the
arts and inclined to fill his house with books and exotic objets
d'art from all over the world. His accrual of passions
is reflected in his towering work-list. His Scottish works
included the two symphonies, Celtic and Hebridean alongside Sea
Reivers, Caristiona, the unrecorded opera The
Seal Woman, Kishmul’s Galley and Cuchulain's
Lament. The orient and the middle east are reflected
in his Omar, Song of Songs, Five Ghazals
of Hafiz, songs and choral pictures. He was drawn to
classical Arcadia in the Pagan Symphony, Cyprian
Goddess, Sappho and Sapphic Poem. So many
other avenues. There are three choral symphonies - The
Pageant of Human Life, Vanity of Vanities and Atalanta
in Calydon - which are notable for using the voices as
if they were an orchestra. Bantock's instrument was however
the orchestra and his mastery of that instrument was nothing
short of genius. A product of the Royal Academy he was not
a great hit with the Three Choirs although in his heyday
other choral festivals in the great cities did take up his
stuff with a will. Before moving on I should also note Bantock’s
chamber music and songs as recorded by Dutton: violin
sonatas and songs.
The Third Violin Sonata has been recorded by United and
then reissued very cannily by Regis-Portrait.
more than sixty years have passed since his death his music
enjoys an easier passage on disc and there is a lot more
of Bantock's orchestral craft can be felt time after time
in this magnificent Hyperion set whether in the delicate
witty-balletic moonlight of Pierrot of the Minute (once
recorded on 78 by Henry Wood) or in The Witch of
Atlas. There's delicacy too in the late Celtic Symphony with
its subtle Caledonian-tinged pastel-Sibelian canvas which
only fully unleashes its string orchestra and six harps at
the end. Rather a pity then that the similarly Sibelian-impressionistic Chinese
Landscapes could not have been included though you can
hear the Paxton original on Dutton which recommend strongly.
Academy greats including Bantock tended to revere Tchaikovsky
over Brahms who was doted on by Stanford and Parry. This
allegiance is pretty clear in the storming brass cauldron
that is The Sea Reivers where salty spume mixes with
the gruff-rasp of the explosive final pages of Francesca
vein so beloved of Bantock is well to the fore in A Hebridean
Symphony - such an original work too. Listen to the silvery
dialogue of harp, flute and violin at the start. This is
comparable with the slightly warmer denser undergrowth of
Fire Symphony and Suk’s Summer
Tale. One might perhaps question the Symphony designation
as the work has the discursive rhapsodic feel of a symphonic
suite rather than the full inevitability of a symphony.
Symphony is weakest when it is at its most melodramatic
and at the apex of its strength when Bantock plies us with
the finest poetic filigree. It is a work of the late 1920s.
Its refulgent romantic Mediterranean manner must have seemed
very much of an anachronism when first heard. In a single
movement it is here tracked in six sections. The symphony
is luminously recorded and in very approximate terms the
style moves between Elgar, the Ravel of La Valse and
the Mahler of the First Symphony.
be well enough known to Bantockians from that old
Beecham recording. This recording is more lambent and
refined than the EMI. It's also given a more vibrant and
even virtuoso performance. Fifine Dances has something
of the light incidental music of Sibelius about it again.
The two Heroic
Ballads are struck from the same Celtic cloth as The
Hebridean and The Sea Reivers yet date from
1944 having been written for Paxton recording sessions. Kishmul's
Galley is almost in Technicolor such is its vibrancy
Goddess symphony is the most obscure of the three.
There were not even 1960s radio performances to warm its
bones; not until this recording was made in 1995. It has
a distinctly Straussian lushness until we get to the Tapiola-style
gale at the animando.
Variations are from the same world as the Bizet and
Massenet suites - very relaxed and rather lacking the vigorous
spark to take the music beyond the confines of charm.
movement Dante and Beatrice takes us back close to
the object of desire of many a young Academy graduate: Tchaikovsky.
The style approximates to Romeo and Juliet moderated
by Bantock's predilection for curls and curves. This is a
darker work than Fifine.
fourth disc we come to some of the finest, most glorious
Bantock on offer. This is an epic song-cycle for an ochre-deep
mezzo and orchestra. It comprises a prelude and nine songs. This
work is contemporary with Omar and it shows. The language
is of equal depth and allusive power as we can hear from
the Evening Song (tr. 4). The Moon has set is
as atmospheric and subtle as In a dream I spake ... with
its soft fast breathing motif. A typically chuckling figure
for clarinet appears in Bridal Song as it also does
in Pierrot. The adjunct yet freestanding Sapphic
Poem is a powerful concert piece for cello and orchestra.
It variously recalls Bruch and Dvořák in the broadest
sense and Julian Lloyd Webber makes the best possible case
for it. It was once available on LP on Gough and Davey where
the soloist was Gillian Thoday.
now to the fifth disc. Processional wends its way
with Tchaikovskian confidence. It is a dark-browed work which
also carries a hint of Finlandia and Kullervo;
listen to the passage at 3.40 and those upward seeping woodwind
slashes. It is the earliest of the works in this collection
and is based on Robert Southey's piece of fake orientalism The
Curse of Kehama. It was to be the first of twenty-four
tone poems - Ah the confident ambition of youth! Apart from Jaga-Naut this
is probably all that viably survives. It is in works such
as Thalaba and this that we see the strain traceable
also in the works of Arthur Farwell (The
Gods of the Mountains after Lord Dunsany), Adolphe
d’Orient), 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.
Caristiona makes prominent use of flute, horn and harp
with oboe solos taking a deep and flourishing bow. The music
is half regretful amid a delicate tracery of romance and
small peaks of determination. The mood is almost as fragile
as that of the Chinese Landscapes.
the first of six tone poems written at the turn of the nineteenth
century into the twentieth century. Bantock revised them
ten years later. They are heavily indebted to Tchaikovsky
in character and instrumental twist. The Russian inclination
was fostered by Frederick Corder who presided at the Academy.
Exactly like his life-long friend Joseph Holbrooke, another
product of the Academy, Bantock peppered some of his scores
with signposts from the poem or drama that prompted the work.
Lewis Foreman gives us the ‘signposts’ and the plot although
rather like Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and Francesca the
plot is irrelevant to musical enjoyment. In terms of inspiration
the work grows on you, making little effect on the listener
first time around. However, try again and each time it grows.
From the point of view of quality of inspiration put this
in the same category as Tchaikovsky's lesser tone poems like Hamlet, The
Storm and the Voyevode; more Hamlet than Voyevode but
not as incandescent as Francesca or as indelible as Romeo.
Think of it in similar terms to the Novak's Godiva (Chandos)
and Dvořák's Erben-themed melodramas. It is a very good
work with a dark proclivity seemingly taken from Dvořák's New
World (try the opening). There’s some real witchery too.
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;
no half measures.
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
2½ hour epic dates from 1912. The rest was not done with
until 7 October 1926. It is for six solo voices, chorus and
orchestra. Song of Songs follows the biblical story
concentrating on the exotic/erotic text without straining
at the Christian exegesis. The music is sultry but lacks
the etched memorable quality of Omar.
and Camel Caravan from Omar run together for
circa 18 minutes. Knowing the work from the Del Mar BBC Radio
3 revival of 1979 the music-making for this performance
seems on a low and sputtering flame - simmer rather than
blaze. Del Mar made more of it. The low-key brass fanfares
of the Caravan remind us of the dawn fanfares from Delius's
music for Hassan.
I wonder who the choir is for the Caravan music.
disc mixes almost familiar Bantock with otherwise completely
unknown works. Handley delivers a very fine Overture to
a Greek Tragedy (1911). It is dedicated to Sibelius who
had dedicated his own Third Symphony to Bantock. The world
premiere recording of the Bantock overture can now be heard
from unfamiliar is Pierrot of the Minute with its
charmingly delicate and diaphanous fronds. It is a gentle
and teasing fantasy that is now completely unfashionable.
It is kin to Elgar's The Starlight Express, Quilter's Where
the Rainbow Ends and O'Neill's The Bluebird. Certainly
it is not a 'Comedy Overture' in the Colas Breugnon or Till
Eulenspiegel machismo or macabre sense. Rather is it
a lambently poetic interplay of moonlight, feather-down and
fragrance. Bantock here resists his tendency towards devastatingly
eruptive multi-layered Strauss-Scriabin climaxes. Handley
has more time to take in the scenery than Norman Del Mar
(a very fine Bantockian) had in his 1970s Chandos recording
with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. Handley's reading times
in at 12.11 against Del Mar's furiously vehement 11.02. With
Del Mar you are prompted to think more about the parallels
with Dukas and Bax. Del Mar's violins can sound a mite harsh
against Hyperion technology and RPO refinement.
Wilderness and the Solitary Place again embrace the sensuous rather than the spiritual. The music speaks
of Bantock’s ambition and of his mystical pagan perspective
on the Bible. Listen the very
Tchaikovskian Romeo and Juliet-style blaring horns
at tr.3 (2.40 and 3.19) and the very tender Sibelian trill
at tr.4 (4.03). Tenderness is a watchword for much of
this score in music for harp and in simulation of pipe
and tabor. It’s all very Pierrot-delicate. Yet there
his superheated writing as well. Listen to the music ecstatically
embraced by a rather plummy alto. The high notes remind
me of similar writing in Harty's Ode to the Nightingale.
resists Straussian blandishments for Pierrot he succumbs
with breathy and breathless consummation for The Song
of Songs. This extravagantly cast and paced piece would
play for two and a half hours if recorded complete - three
quarters of an hour shorter than the three parts of his even
more masterly Omar Khayyám when it is recorded fully
complete. In the present case we have three of the five 'days'
into which the work is divided. In each of these days the
soloists sing with their texts taken verbatim from the Bible.
The work starts with a substantial orchestral prelude magnificently
recorded on Hyperion CDA67250. Then come the five days interspersed
with choral contributions with the choir singing from the
Psalms and with orchestral interludes in the form of exotic
dances. The music lies somewhere between the tropics of Rimsky-Korsakov
and Strauss. Helden voices are de rigueur as you will
hear from Connell in Make haste my beloved (tr.25)
and from Begley in Arise my love (n the words 'come
away') (tr.9, 2.17). The illustrative music for the words “Until
the daybreak and shadows flee away” is vivid indeed (tr.9)
as is the Balakirev-Rimsky inflections of the superb orchestral
interlude at tr. 11.
experience is added savour by Lewis Foreman's liner-notes.
Indeed the whole project would have been nothing without
Foreman's guiding hand and the extensive preparatory work
on scores and parts by Rodney Stephen Newton.
hope for more Bantock from Hyperion? There is no shortage
of candidates; The Four Chinese Landscapes (1936 -
superbly atmospheric music in a superior Sibelian vein), The
Land of the Gael (1915), Coronach (1918), From
the Far West (1912), Scenes From The Scottish Highlands (1913), Prelude
to Euripides Bacchae (1945) and The Funeral (1946).
There is a captive audience at the company’s disposal.
As is usual
this rare listening experience receives added savour through
Lewis Foreman's liner-notes. Indeed the whole project would
have been nothing without Foreman's guiding insight and unstinting
labour. We should not forget the work of composer Rodney
Stephen Newton without whose insight, inspiration and dogged
labour this would have never have happened. It also stands
as a notable monument to the flair, perceptive judgement
and commitment of the much-missed Ted Perry.
aside this is an essential addition to the shelves of any
admirer of late-romantic music and of lyrical-dramatic British
music in particular.
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