Sunday, June 11, 2017

Granville Bantock - Orchestral Works Vol. 2 (Vernon Handley)


Composer: Granville Bantock
  • (01-06) Pagan Symphony
  • (07-11) Fifine at the Fair
  • (12) Two Heroic Ballads: 1. Cuchullan's Lament
  • (13) Two Heroic Ballads: 2. Kishmul's Galley

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley, conductor

Date: 1992
Label: Hyperion



This collection confirms what its predecessor (a coupling of the Celtic and Hebridean Symphonies—Hyperion, 5/91) strongly implied, that Bantock was a composer of real achievement whose music has been undeservedly neglected. Nor can I quite see the reason for the neglect, unless it be that a luxuriant, even Straussian romanticism was seen as anachronistic in 1936 (the date of the first performance of the Pagan Symphony—perhaps significantly it had been completed all of eight years before). Yes, it is old-fashioned, but not in any lazy sense: Bantock was a superb technician, and his impressively large-scale structures (both of the principal works here are single movements lasting over half an hour) have a real urgency to them.

Or perhaps I should say a real enjoyment. Despite the potentially tragic undertones of Fifine at the Fair, both works are almost untroubled, filled instead with the geniality of a craftsman joyfully exercising a craft of which he has become master. The cleverness of Bantock's thematic transformations can make you smile with pleasure once you've worked out what he's doing—and then smile again at the realization that the result of the transformation isn't an arid piece of technique for technique's sake, but another jolly good tune. And it is all very beautifully scored. Even the effects that on paper look too clever by half (the lengthy crescendo for percussion alone in the Scherzo of the Pagan Symphony, the 21-part string textures in the magical introduction to Fifine at the Fair) come off brilliantly: Bantock was a master of the orchestra.

Is there anything lacking? I suppose the strong individuality that would stamp every page as Bantock and no one else—but then I can take quite a lot of a composer as skilled as Bantock was who from time to time reminds me of Strauss or of Elgar. Is he just a bit too clever, for ever finding yet another ingenious and delightful thing that can be done with a scale-figure? Possibly, but on the other hand he is never dull. Is real emotional depth lacking, despite hints of it whenever the wronged wife appears in Fifine? Maybe; possibly he was more given to enjoying than to pondering. Horses for courses, Bantock for enjoyment. The performances are stunning, the recordings most sumptuous. Oh, and the two Heroic Ballads, for all that they're concerned with Cuchullan and his ilk, have not a shred of Irish Sea mist hanging around them: they are bold, colourful and stirring.

-- Michael Oliver, Gramophone

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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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