Bantock: The Death of Morar; Two Irish Folksongs; Three Settings of Alfred Hayes; Three Songs of the Hebrides; Two Scottish Folksongs; Two Poems of WB Yeats; Two Scottish Poems

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COMPOSERS: Bantock
LABELS: Meridian
WORKS: The Death of Morar; Two Irish Folksongs; Three Settings of Alfred Hayes; Three Songs of the Hebrides; Two Scottish Folksongs; Two Poems of WB Yeats; Two Scottish Poems
PERFORMER: Elysian Singers/Sam Laughton
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84570

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Bantock the miniaturist: to those familiar with the composer’s capaciously scored symphonies and large-scale vocal compositions it’s an unlikely designation. Many of the mainly short pieces on this disc derive from Bantock’s association with the national choral competitions movement, and sometimes show it.

The scenario of ‘Emer’s Lament for Cuchulain’, for example, with its gruesome image of a wife cradling her husband’s severed head against her breast, raises emotional and dramatic expectations of Bantock’s setting. In the event he delivers an anodyne version of the ‘Londonderry Air’, decorated with ‘cleverly’ sidestepping sequences of narrow intervals, putting each voice-part though its respective technical paces.

Other works, however, elicit a deeper, less obviously stage-managed level of utterance. ‘The Death of Morar’, dark, gloomy and much more flexible structurally, is one of these, as is ‘A Faery Song’ (first of Two Poems of WB Yeats), which broodingly evokes the bridal sleep of legendary Irish lovers Diarmuid and Grania.

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Young, fresh-toned voices dominate the Elysian Singers, whose performances, brightly attentive to text without becoming over-punctilious, are flexibly shaped by conductor Sam Laughton. This is not major repertoire, but Bantock’s sizeable following will be grateful that holes in his discography have been filled with such expertise and empathy. Terry Blain