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Bantock: A Pageant Of Human Life; The Golden Journey To Samarkand / Barnes, Saint Louis Chamber Chorus

Bantock / Saint Louis Chamber Choir / Barnes
Release Date: 03/22/2010 
Label:  Regent   Catalog #: 310  
Composer:  Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BANTOCK Choral Music Philip Barnes, cond; 1 Saint Louis CCh; 2 Emily Heslop (sop); 3 David Goldman (ten); 4 Parkway North High School Ch; Washington University Concert Ch REGENT 310 (77:26 Text and Translation)


The Golden Journey Read more to Samarkand. They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships. In the Silent West. Coronach. One with Eyes the Fairest. The Lake Isle of Innisfree 2. The Mermaid’s Croon 2. The Happy Isle. Requiem. The Isles of Greece. Choruses for Male Voices: O Zeus The King; A Grammarian’s Funeral; Paracelsus 3. A Pageant of Human Life. 1,3 Dearest Thou Now, O Soul 1,4


Granville Bantock may well be, as the back cover of this CD states, “one of the most neglected composers in English music of the first half of the 20th century.” Truth to tell, though, despite the steady advocacy of his orchestral works by Vernon Handley, a conductor I greatly admired, I would never have wondered why. Despite success as a conductor and administrator, and the support of important friends like Elgar and Sibelius, there were a number of factors working against Bantock the composer: a base of operations in Birmingham and the English Midlands, an area well outside the musical centers of influence in the early decades of the 20th century; an inability (or unwillingness) to subsume the dominating influences of Strauss and Wagner into something more distinctively personal; a technique that was too often more craftsmanlike than inspired; and a hyper-emotive and often undisciplined compositional style, when the era of late-Romantic perfumed exoticism was about to be done in by war and disillusionment.


None of this, though, need concern one when considering this release. Bantock the a cappella choral composer is a different creature altogether. The rich chromatic tonality and the transformational thematic development are, to some degree, common to both, but his part-song construction is tighter, the colors of necessity more delicately applied, and where influence is obvious, it is most often the folk music of the Hebrides. In a lengthy and scholarly annotation, conductor Philip Barnes makes a compelling case for reappraisal of Bantock the choral composer, but it is the works themselves that argue the most persuasively for greater familiarity. It is hard when listening to these pieces—a choral symphony, a cycle of part-songs for male chorus, and 11 additional works—to understand why they do not play a bigger part in the programs of Britain’s many fine a cappella choirs. Indeed, one wonders why only three of them had previously been recorded, and why it has fallen to an enterprising director and choir in the American midlands to first add the others to the composer’s discography.


In actuality, they have done more, for one of these works, a setting of Whitman’s Darest Thou Now, O Soul , received its world premiere in St. Louis just prior to the making of this recording. This challenging, harmonically complex 12-part work, the proposed final movement for a never-completed Walt Whitman choral symphony, is but one of the highlights of this release. Equally engaging are the gentle, polished folk-inspired part-songs like The Mermaid’s Croon , with their lovely soprano solos, and the title work, A Pageant of Human Life , an eight-movement choral symphony on early Thomas More stanzas, ingeniously crafted for different combinations of women’s, men’s, and children’s voices. Then there is the tender Celtic lament Coronach , and the sad restraint of Requiem, a setting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s epitaph inspired by a visit to the author’s island. I must mention, finally, my favorite: Three Choruses for Male Voices , powerful settings of Robert Browning verses, which shows off the robust men’s sections of the Saint Louis Chamber Choir.


Men and women, this is a very fine chorus: evenly blended, richly velvet in tone, sans vibrato, with pure, but not white-toned, sopranos and near flawless intonation even in the trickiest passages. The choir records in the reverberant acoustic of Our Lady of Sorrows church in St. Louis, a venue that flatters the voices, but which, recorded at a middle distance and abetted by some vagueness in attack, tends to blur the words. This is a shame since it leaves the listener dependent on the provided texts to appreciate Bantock’s considerable skill at text setting.


That, and an occasional tendency to underplay dissonances instead of pressing them, is my only reservation; not much when weighed against the uncharted treasures this CD contains. However, before giving a final blessing, I should disclose that the Grames listed in the bass section is my younger brother. He is, though, unaware that I am writing this review, and I have no other connection to the chorus, so this should not be a concern. I even bought my own copy of this wonderful recording. And so, if you love fine choral singing and fine English part-songs, should you.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

1.
The Golden Journey to Samarkand by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
2.
They that go down to the sea in ships by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
3.
In the silent west by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
4.
Coronach, Pro Patria Mori by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
5.
One with eyes the fairest by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
6.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
7.
The Mermaid's Croon by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
8.
The Happy Isle by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
9.
Requiem by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
10.
The Isles of Greece by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
11.
Choruses (3) for Male Voices by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
12.
A Pageant of Human Life by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus
13.
Dearest thou now O soul by Granville Bantock
Conductor:  Philip Barnes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Chamber Chorus

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