BANTOCK: Overture to a Greek Tragedy. The Wilderness and the Solitary
Place. Pierrot of the Minute. The Song of Songs (The Second Day,
The Third Day, The Fifth Day).
Elizabeth Connell, soprano; Kim Begley, tenor; William Prideaux, baritone;
Royal Phiharmonic Orch/Vernon Handley, cond.
HYPERION CDA 67395 (F) (DDD) TT: 77:58
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This is the sixth in a series of CDs devoted to the uneven but fascinating—and
sometimes epical—music of Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946),
for which we have Hyperion’s late founder Ted Perry to thank. Once
more Vernon Handley conducts the Royal Philharmonic in inimitable performances,
thrillingly recorded by Tony Faulkner. What possible treasures still
repose in the composer’s vast unrecorded output we may never discover
given the lamentable death of Perry, the label’s father and artistic
Rather than recapitulate details of Bantock’s life and the earlier
recordings (beginning with the second of them, reviewed by R.E.B. in
1999 during the first year of this website on line), let me suggest you
consult the Index and speed-read (or slowly as all writers hope) what
already has been written, and let this notice concentrate on No. 6, recorded
April 1-2 of last year. The major component is excerpts from “a
dramatic rhapsody,” The Song of Songs, a three-hour creation
in five sections “for six solo voices, chorus and orchestra” (with
staging instructions included in the score). Bantock began it in 1912
but didn’t finish the entire piece until 1926. It had few performances
and fewer broadcasts, mostly of excerpts, which is what we have on this
disc—41:00 of them—but only the complete Second
of Five “Days,” following
Biblical precedent (although Bantock eroticized the text), along with
portions of the Third Day, and love music from the Fifth.
The problem, a major one sorry to say, is the two principal singers,
who have oratorio temperaments and worn voices. Elizabeth Connell is
no sexier or vocally opulent as the Shulamite than a veteran church soprano,
while tenor Kim Begley barks almost everything louder than mezzo-forte.
This is all the sadder from a firm that devoted itself to the complete
Lieder of Schubert with international singers of remarkable artistry.
Handley tries but cannot save the day, although it is entirely within
his purview had the vocalists been of suitable temperament, and age.
There are passages of lovely music—Strauss and Liszt rate
they needed help.
The 18-minute Overture to Greek Tragedy (“Oedipus
predated first sketches for The Song of Songs by a year, and
was dedicated to Sibelius, who in turn had dedicated his Third
Symphony to Bantock.
The Witness and the Solitary Place came sixth in a retelling
of the Christ- story dating from the 1890s, a score that originally ran
to 700 pages
which Bantock called a “Festival Symphony in 10 Parts.” In
1900 he edited this down to a five-part “symphony,” from
which the aria on this disc enjoyed a moderate life as a concert encore.
Whether “its feeling of an exotic dance marked by tambourine and
idiosyncratic scoring for winds and harps” (in the annotator’s
words) could have charmed one is moot: Elizabeth Connell sings it in
the same chaste, worn manner of her Song of Songs arias. Pierrot
of the Minute,
finally, was composed in 1908, and within a year rivaled Elgar’s
First Symphony in popularity. It is comic yet not quite characterful,
which Malcolm Arnold’s Tam o’Shanter Overture succeeded
in being several decades later. The performance is vivid but the music
quickly from the memory.
I wish it were possible to like Bantock Volume 6 as much as the others,
but vocal casting blocks pleasure. The question is: Will we ever have
more, now that Ted Perry’s gone?
R.D. (January 2004)