Sunday, June 11, 2017

Granville Bantock - Orchestral Works Vol. 1 (Vernon Handley)


Composer: Granville Bantock
  • (01-05) A Celtic Symphony 
  • (06-13) The Witch of Atlas 
  • (14) The Sea Reivers 
  • (15-23) A Hebridean Symphony 

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley, condutor

Date: 1990
Label: Hyperion



The indefatigable Vernon Handley's exploration of the furthest reaches of British music has now taken him into Granville Bantock territory, about as unfashionable an area as one can find today except perhaps for Holbrooke and van Dieren. As it happens, the Hebridean Symphony has already appeared on a recent CD conducted by Adrian Leaper (Marco Polo/Harmonia Mundi). I was impressed by it then, and this much finer performance by the RPO confirms my favourable opinion. The writing for the brass in the powerful and imaginative third section of this one-movement work reminded me of Janacek, and I see that Michael Hurd in his notes for this new issue has made the same comparison. It is, I suppose, too much to hope that our timid orchestral managements will risk this work in concert, but if they were to do so, justice would be served.

The other works on this disc, though not perhaps of comparable quality, show how remiss we are to condemn Bantock to silence. The tone-poem The Witch of Atlas, based on passages from Shelley's poem of that name and composed for the 1902 Worcester Festival, is most sensuously and colourfully scored and explains why some critics of the day rated Bantock above Elgar as an orchestrator. It certainly does not deserve the neglect which has fallen upon it. The obvious adjective for such romanticism is Straussian, but I do not detect his influence—as so often with English music of this period, the tone-poems of Saint-Saens and Franck and the ballet music of Delibes seem to me to be the models. Incidentally, while the 1902 Festival authorities were worrying over the ''Romanism'' of the text of The Dream of Gerontius and altering it, they obviously neglected to read Shelley's poem. If they had, Bantock's work would surely have been banned, even though the words are not sung!

Also included on this enterprising disc—magnificently recorded and performed, by the way—are the short Sea Reivers, intended as a scherzo for the Hebridean Symphony, and the Celtic Symphony for strings and six harps (duly used for this recording). The latter was completed in 1940 and is also in one movement, its main theme based on a Hebridean folk-song. When audiences are crying out for 'melodious music', how can such music as this have been ignored for so long? Not for nothing, this disc makes clear, did Elgar and others admire and respect Bantock.

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Granville Bantock (7 August 1868 – 16 October 1946) was a British composer of classical music. His music was influenced by folk song of the Hebrides (as in his 1915 Hebridean Symphony) and the works of Richard Wagner. Many of his works have an "exotic" element, including the choral epic Omar Khayyám (1906–09). Among his other better-known works are the overture The Pierrot of the Minute (1908) and the Pagan Symphony (1928). Many of his works have been commercially recorded since the early 1990s.


Vernon Handley (11 November 1930 – 10 September 2008) was a British conductor, known in particular for his support of British composers. Handley is much revered for his enthusiastic and untiring championship of British music, including many lesser known, unfashionable or relatively neglected composers whose artistic reputations and popularity he often helped to revive. He is said to have recorded as many as a hundred premières of British works, including highly successful series on labels such as Hyperion, Chandos, EMI and Conifer.


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