The Song of Songs Prelude
Omar Khayyam Prelude; Camel Caravan
Caristiona (No.1 of Two Hebridean Sea Poems)
Processional (No.1 of Two Orchestral Scenes)
Thalaba the Destroyer
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2002
CD No: HYPERION CDA67250
Vernon Handley’s on-going survey of Sir Granville Bantock’s orchestral music – this is volume 5 – continues to show that this all-but-forgotten figure of British music is not deserving of such neglect.
Bantock (1868-1946), also a conductor and teacher, was a steadfast promulgator of his contemporaries’ work; as a composer he was much played during his lifetime, certainly during the early part of the last century. With Vernon Handley a staunch and sympathetic ally and Hyperion providing superb sound and annotation, the opportunity to re-discover Bantock’s music could not be better achieved.
If the most striking of Bantock’s creations, the ’Pagan’ and ’Hebridean’ symphonies, have already been released, there is keen interest in what remains. If the latest CD’s listing suggests Bantockian off-cuts, this is not the case. Thalaba the Destroyer lasts nearly half-an-hour, and Caristiona is a jewel of a piece. Bantock’s fascination with Hebridean song infuses many of his works. Caristiona uses a particularly haunting one, shared by lightly dancing woodwind, introduced after a rapt prelude that recalls Vaughan Williams; this spacious piece, of pastoral evocation, touches the heart.
Processional is a revision of some of Bantock’s earliest music, inspired by Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama – pomp and circumstance Indian-style though lacking Elgar’s (Crown of India) distinction. Exotic-masquerading percussion is overdone in this rather bombastic fictional picture of the East. The excerpts from Song of Songs and Omar Khayyam – both epic scores of lavish spectacle – bring, in the former, Straussian luxuriance and, in the latter, dramatic intensity and translucent radiance, the eerie quiet and static desert landscape atmospherically conveyed in ’Camel Caravan’ in which the addition of a chorus is endearingly twee.
Thalaba the Destroyer, again after Southey, is a real discovery. Written in 1899, it’s not a lost masterpiece; rather it’s a blood-and-gore, somewhat melodramatic piece that one can simply enjoy and revel in. Bantock had great admiration for Tchaikovsky – he conducted him a lot – and his music seeps into Thalaba. Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet in particular, a more general allusion to Manfred, and Francesca da Rimini’s denouement is mimicked for Thalaba’s closing bars; it holds the attention through some good old-fashioned Romantic story-telling (there’s a full synopsis in the booklet). There is also some gentle reflection to contrast full-tilt thrill, and deftness of scoring, staccato brass (beginning of track 14) for example. Thalaba certainly withstands several listens – a tribute to the colour and thrall of the music and to a superb performance from the RPO and Handley, vividly recorded.
Previous releases in Hyperion’s Bantock series (all RPO/Handley):
- Vol.1 – Celtic Symphony, Hebridean Symphony – CDA66450
- Vol.2 – The Cyprian Goddess, Dante and Beatrice – CDA66810
- Vol.3 – A Pagan Symphony, Fifine at the Fair – CDA66630
- Vol.4 – Sappho, Sapphic Poem – CDA66899