Sunday, June 11, 2017

Granville Bantock - Orchestral Works Vol. 6 (Vernon Handley)


Composer: Granville Bantock
  • (01-04) Overture to a Greek Tragedy
  • (05) The Wilderness and the Solitary Place
  • (06) Pierrot of the Minute, comedy overture after Ernest Dowson
  • (07-24) The Song of Songs

Elizabeth Connell, soprano (5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 20-24)
Kim Begley, tenor (8, 9, 19-23)
William Prideaux, baritone (19)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vernon Handley, conductor

Date: 2003
Label: Hyperion



Hyperion’s enterprising series brings more from Bantock’s sensuous magnum opus

Written very quickly over the summer of 1908 and premièred at that year’s Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, Granville Bantock’s comedy overture Pierrot of the Minute enjoyed much success before the First World War. It’s a charming work, and Vernon Handley and the RPO deliver a performance which in its atmospheric delicacy and witty point must take precedence over Norman Del Mar’s version with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. 

Three years later, Worcester also played host to the first performance of the Overture to a Greek Tragedy. This makes an imposing curtain-raiser – more imposing, in fact, than I had remembered from Nicholas Braithwaite’s Lyrita LP with the Philharmonia (8/85 – nla). Handley extracts every ounce of drama and lyricism from Bantock’s ripely colourful inspiration, and his majestically paced reading attains a moving nobility in the radiant and (to my ears) rather Straussian peroration.

Hyperion’s previous Bantock instalment (1/02) opened with the sensuous ‘Prelude’ to Bantock’s two-and-a-half-hour setting of The Song of Songs (1912-26). Now come excerpts from three of its five scenes (or ‘Days’), 41 minutes of music in all. The Second Day and love duet from the Fifth Day are themat-ically related and here frame a purely orchestral sequence from the Third Day. Bantock’s melodic impulse and resourceful scoring make for heady listening (I was again reminded of Strauss). If you enjoyed the extended, similarly voluptuous song-cycle Sappho (Hyperion, 11/97), you’ll know what to expect. 

In their respective roles of the Shulamite and her Shepherd lover, Elizabeth Connell and Kim Begley rise admirably to the wide-ranging vocal challenges. Connell also makes an affectionate showing in ‘The Wilderness and the Solitary Place’, a pretty, gently exotic six-minute aria from Bantock’s 1907 oratorio Christ in the Wilderness (itself extracted from an earlier, unbelievably ambitious ‘Festival Symphony in 10 parts’ entitled Christus). 

Sound of outstanding fidelity (Tony Faulkner) and helpful annotation (Lewis Foreman, who also researched and devised the programme) add further lustre to yet another Bantock/Hyperion gem.

-- Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone

More reviews:


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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