Saturday, September 26, 2015

Granville Bantock - Overture to a Greek Tragedy - Josef Holbrooke - The Birds of Rhiannon - Cyril Rootham - Symphony No. 1 - London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley - Philharmonia Orchestra, Nicholas Braithwaite - Lyrita (remastered 2007)

This is an important Lyrita recording that offers music by a composer (Bantock) who is still far too under-appreciated and neglected (especially considering how powerful and sublime his music is-not to mention how massive is the size of his output, 90%+ of which remains unknown), a composer who remains obscure (Holbrooke), and lastly a composer who is entirely obscure and known to very few (Rootham). I do know of two discs devoted entirely to Cyril Rootham; One contains his Symphony No. 2 and "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity", which is also on Lyrita, as well as an EMI disc from 1987 that features works for orchestra and orchestra and chorus. Rootham's Symphony is perhaps the nicest surprise here, it's obscurity is but one reason; this is very good music as you all shall hear!

Bantock has always been on my short-list of favorite composers, I find all of his music to be irresistible and beautiful, whether it's his works specifically inspired by Scotland and Hebridean folk music, or his music that reflects his equally strong interest and expansive knowledge of musics and literature from the Far East, mythic legends, and all types of 'exotic' subject matter.  

I have been tempted to post my favorite Bantock discs (especially those on Hyperion, my absolute favorite being the recording that includes the lush, utterly delightful, and complete knock-out "Celtic Symphony") however I'm certain they have already been shared on other blogs. Chandos recorded (as well as a few smaller works) the Masterpiece "Omar Khayyam", scored for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra-I hope everyone is already familiar with it! I don't think the Dutton Epoch discs have been shared yet, and there's some others I will have to check to see if they are 'un-posted'..

Bantock was born in Notting Hill in west London on August 7th, 1868. He came from a professional family background, his Scottish father being a celebrated surgeon. Not unlike many other composers, Bantock had to overcome initial 'parental opposition', and started to train both as a chemical engineer and for the Indian Civil Service before finally being allowed to go to the Royal Academy of Music in 1888. Bantock's first jobs on leaving the Academy were as conductor of musical comedies, and then his first real success was also as a conductor at the Tower, New Brighton, a resort across the Mersey from Liverpool. Initially, Bantock had only a military band to work with,  but he quickly developed an orchestra with which for three years he presented pioneering programs of music by his British contemporaries. In 1900 he was appointed Principal of the Midland Institute School of Music in Birmingham, and in 1908 succeeded Elgar as Professor of Music at Birmingham University. His life's work was thus focused on the Midlands rather than London. 

A wonderful portrait of Sir Granville Bantock by Bernard Munns (1869–1942)

Bantock forged a personal style from what was new in the 1890's-especially Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss-and between 1900 and 1914 produced a fair portion of his best music. He was always descriptive in his treatment, oft fascinated by 'oriental' and exotic subjects as mentioned above. At the peak of his reputation Bantock turned to to Greek tragedy for a theme and quickly wrote his "Overture to a Greek Tragedy" in 1911, and it was first heard at the Three Choirs Festival that September. He called this score an 'overture', but it really is more of a tone-poem, written at the time he was reworking two earlier ones: "Dante & Beatrice" and "Fifine at the Fair" and their sound-world is reflected in the 'overture'. The Greek tragedy in question is Sophocle's Oedipus at Colonus, and Bantock creates his drama with characteristically sudden changes of mood. Things start off with a striking sombre 5/4 fanfare-like idea, which along with the faster section that follows can be viewed
as the first subject group of a sonata treatment of the material. The second subject is more typically Bantockian, representing Antigone initially with a solo violin and four horns, a texture strongly reminiscent of "Fifine..". Ultimately Bantock works the opening idea to a passionate climax. The score is dedicated to Sibelius, whose own Third Symphony had earlier been dedicated to Bantock. 

Daniel Rootham, cathedral organist at Bristol, conducted concerts there and directed the Bristol Madrigal Society. It is not accidental that his son wrote so many choral-orchestral works and pieces for vocal ensemble. Cyril Rootham's education at Clifton and Cambridge, where Vaughan Williams was his senior, increased a literary sensitivity not evident in all his musical forbears (Elgar for example). He sought their thematic interest without cavalier subjection of verbal rhythm; his most ambitious realization of this ideal is the setting of Milton's "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity".
Rootham wrote well over 100 works including an opera, songs, orchestral works and much choral music, music for organ, and chamber music. Practically all of these works remain unknown.

Cyril Rootham and his pipe in 1935

In 1901, Rootham returned to Cambridge as Director of Music at St. John's College. He was later appointed Senior Lecturer in counterpoint and harmony and conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society. A production of The Magic Flute in 1911 drew much attention as Mozart's operas were still rarely taken up, and Rootham's musical success with the Musical Society continued with Purcell operas and masques, dramatizations of Handel oratorios and other operas by Mozart as well. Until his early death in 1938, Cyril Rootham remained an influential figure in Cambridge musical life and he taught a number of musicians who went on to become significant composers (including Arthur Bliss and Cecil Armstrong Gibbs). 

The Symphony No. 1 is in four movements and displays a composer driven by matters as weighty and gripping as those tackled by Bliss to whose music Rootham's in this case bears some resemblance. Rootham often writes ebullient music and it is evident especially in the outer movements. The second and third movements recall Vaughan Williams and Holst; even Moeran in the Scherzo. If there was one work that is invoked more often than any other it is Bliss's "Colour Symphony". It can be heard in the bustle, vigour and sanguine splendour of the outer movements. Other voices passingly foreshadwed or echoed are RVW's "49th Parallel" and the symphonic blast of William Alwyn. It's a big-boned confident symphony that deserves to be known and known well at that. Hopefully someday this will be the case. 

Here are Josef Holbrooke's original program notes (I'm too tired to add any bio on Holbrooke tonight) for "The Birds of Rhiannon":

"The Birds of Rhiannon is a fantasia written for small orchestra with glockenspiel and harp ad. lib. It is copious in material and has plenty of variety of theme, mood and rhythm. The work opens with a horn solo, the theme being taken up by the strings in the major key and treated with easy fluency and beauty of sound. Another theme on the first violins soon makes an appearance, leading into an andante movement in triple time; then the rhythm changes and the music continues in this mood for some little time while until we reach a tranquillo version of the first theme for oboe solo with tremolando accompaniment. After this there are many changes of style and rhythm and much flowing melody which could only be satisfactorily indicated by extensive quotation. The story of the Birds is found in the wonderful Mabinogion stories of early Welsh history. An episode says: After the death of Pwyll, Rhiannon was by her son Pryderi, bestowed in marriage upon Manawyddan, the son of Llyr, and her subsequent history is detailed in the Mabinogi that bears his name. Her marvellous birds whose notes were so sweet that warriors remained spell-bound for eighty years together listening to them, are a frequent theme with the poets. Three things that are not often heard: the song of the Birds of Rhiannon, a song of wisdom from the mouth of a Saxon, and an invitation to a feast from the mouth of a miser. The music of this piece is taken from various episodes in the composer's dramas - Dylan, Children of Don and Bronwen - which are all scored for a very large orchestra. Although these dramas have now been written nearly fifteen years - and performed abroad - they are still practically unknown to our music lovers."

Josef Holbrooke

Enjoy everyone


Toon van Dijk said...

Many thanks and regards from The Netherlands.
Veel dank en groeten uit Nederland.

gpdlt2000 said...

Bravo for Bantock!!!

coppinsuk said...

Thanks for all your efforts.

Most appreciated.


Douglas (UK)

Scraps said...

Any Bantock at all is appreciated. I only have his Pagan & Hebridean symphonies, and a disc by the Bournenouth Sinfonietta playing Bridge, Bantock, and Butterworth that was my introduction to Bantock ("The Pierrot of the Miunute", a happy piece that left me wanting more).

Tzadik said...

Hi Toon, nice to see this disc is new to you..


Tzadik said...


Bantock takes a bow ;-)


Tzadik said...


No problem friend, I'm happy that you are enjoying the shares! This is a fine one I think..



Tzadik said...

Well then Scraps, I now have an excuse to share some of the other Bantock discs after all ;)