Norman Del Mar conducts choral works by Granville Bantock

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COMPOSERS: Bantock
LABELS: Lyrita
ALBUM TITLE: Bantock
WORKS: Omar Khayyám†; Fifine at the Fair; Sappho*; The Pierrot of the Minute
PERFORMER: †Sarah Walker, *Johanna Peters (contralto), †Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), †Brian Rayner Cook (baritone); †BBC Singers; †BBC SO; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
CATALOGUE NO: REAM.2128  

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Granville Bantock did nothing by halves. A conductor, educator, journalist, orientalist, Straussian, Wagnerian, friend and champion of Prokofiev, Delius and Sibelius (who dedicated his Third Symphony to him), his music was no less expansive and eclectic. He was well matched to an earlier polymath, Sufi philosopher-mathematician Omar Khayyám, whose wryly hedonistic verses, in Edward Fitzgerald’s famous free translations, he set as a three-part choral extravaganza, with a huge orchestra (including camel bells), and soloists representing ardent Poet, older Philosopher, and Beloved. The result is long-breathed, long-phrased and plain long, but it has luxuriant colour and symphonic scale, and its serpentine melodies grow on listening. 

The first commercial recording (Chandos, 2007) was characterised by Vernon Handley’s languid tempos, and cut some 20 minutes. This 1979 revival, created by one dedicated BBC producer with conductor Norman del Mar, is complete, and much livelier, with equally fine soloists; although the recording (privately preserved by Lyrita’s founder Richard Itter) isn’t nearly so rich and the chorus more recessed, it’s still preferable. It’s well coupled with other less rare Bantock, especially Fifine at the Fair, based on Browning’s mordant sexual fable. Del Mar, an eminent Strauss scholar, has a sure feeling for the orchestral writing of this era, well paced and translucent rather than weighty.

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Michael Scott Rohan