Bantock: Omar Khayyám. Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo-soprano, Toby Spence, tenor, Roderick Williams, baritone; BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Vernon Handley, conductor. Brian Couzens, producer; Ralph Couzens, engineer. Chandos CHSA 5051 [3 CDs].
Granville Ransome Bantock (1868-1946) lived long enough to see the name of Bartók enter the lexicon next to his, long enough in fact to read the latter’s obituary. By that time his own music had been dismissed as old-fashioned and his prodigious output swallowed by neglect. A few decades later, in 1980, the entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians could say tersely of him: “He was a prominent figure in the early years of the English musicalRead more renaissance, and for a while his music was widely performed. It has passed out of fashion, and it is possible to understand the reasons.”
Whoa…not so fast! Recently, like others of his generation and conservative bent, Bantock (Sir Granville from 1930) has been rehabilitated through the good offices of two enterprising English record labels – Hyperion and Chandos – and the advocacy of a lamentably underrated English conductor – Vernon Handley – who knows a good thing when he comes across it. This release caps, quite gloriously, Handley’s committed survey of Bantock’s symphonic oeuvre, preserving an inspired reading of a magnificent score in sound of absolute demonstration quality.
Like Nielsen and Szymanowski, Bantock was a thoughtful man from a northern clime who sought refuge, and a kind of spiritual liberation, in an imaginary engagement with Mediterranean antiquity and the opulence of various Eastern locales. Having been trained for a civil service posting in India, he at least came by his particular brand of artistic escapism honestly. The foremost example of this inclination toward the exotic was his massive, two-and-a-half-hour-long setting of Edward Fitzgerald’s The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, all 101 quatrains of it.
Omar Khayyám was an 11th-century Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet whose “rubáiyát,” or verses, became, in Fitzgerald’s sentimental translation, one of the touchstones of Victorian literature, its most celebrated couplet (“A book of verses underneath the bough,/A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and thou”) an emblem of the era. Fitzgerald’s versification turned Khayyám’s musings on life and love into a paean to sensual and spiritual indulgence; Bantock’s response was an opulent, unabashedly lyrical setting for solo voices, mixed chorus, and gigantic orchestra featuring two full string groups arrayed left and right. A tapestry of leitmotifs – representing the muezzin’s call to prayer, night, love, regret, the desert, the grape, etc. – unifies the work, and the poetry is “personified” and given dramatic resonance by three principal vocal soloists, representing The Beloved, The Poet, and The Philosopher. One easily enters a world of soft, starry nights, caravans, and meditations lit by the sweet glow of wine.
Handley inspires his performers to give their all-out best in this flowing, expertly paced account. The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays radiantly, the chorus is outstandingly well prepared, and Roderick Williams makes a magnificent Philosopher, his warmth and stentorian projection a marvel. Chandos used the best venue in the London area – Watford Town Hall – and has produced a stupendously well-engineered direct-stream digital recording that is at once pleasing and truthful. The soundstage is enormous, and within it there’s a rock-solid placement of sections and instruments, allowing Bantock’s division of the strings to register with particularly thrilling effect. One delights in the tonal realism of massed and solo strings, the presence of the woodwind solos, the weight and burnished warmth of the heavy brass, and the impact of the percussion. It’s a state-of-the-art recording, and if it doesn’t take record-of-the-year honors all over the place, I’ll be a muezzin’s uncle.
– Ted Libbey, author of
The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection. Read less
Works on This Recording
Omar Khayyámby Granville Bantock Performer:
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Mezzo Soprano),
Toby Spence (Tenor),
Roderick Williams (Baritone)
BBC Symphony Orchestra,
BBC Symphony Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1911; England
Featured Sound Samples
Omar Khayyám: Prelude
Omar Khayyám: Chorus: "Wake! For the Sun, who scattered into flight"
Omar Khayyám: Chorus: "Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend"
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A loaf of bread, a glass of wine and this recordiMarch 4, 2015By Donald J O'Connor (Kreamer, PA)See All My Reviews"This must be Bantock's masterwork. In a 2 1/2 hour piece, he sustains his inspiration throughout the work, both vocally and orchestrally. It's music of Babylonian glory; a musical equivalent to a vast John Martin painting.The work is slightly cut, but in view of the huge amount of great stuff remaining, that's not important. Bantock's music has the flavor of Khayam's poem, but with authentic-sounding color, not phony B-movie tricks. The orchestra is a large one, including a double-sized string section and page after page is a stunner. The performance from singers and players is superb. Handley's conducting is, as usual first-rate throughout. All the more do we miss this great leader. It's a shame the choral repertoire is usually limited to works using small orchestras, so we have to settle for pap instead of grandeur like Omar Khayam."Report Abuse