Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
Chanson de Mai (1920) [2:17]
Memories of Sapphire (1938) [8:32]
Cloisters at Midnight (1920) [4:39]
Barcarolle (1894) [3:49]
Reverie (1894) [2:08]
Parade March (1936) [2:51]
Two Scottish Pieces (1918) [7:29]
Saul – A Symphonic Overture (1894) [12:24]
Twelve Piano Pieces (1892-97) [31:21]
Maria Marchant (piano)
rec. Turner Sims, Southampton, England, 2017
SOMM RECORDINGS SOMMCD0183 [73:43]
Interest in, and recordings of, Bantock’s music have grown slowly but steadily over the last 25 years or so mainly because of the numerous Hyperion recordings. They began with Bantock’s Celtic and Hebridean Symphonies etc. in 1990 and continued with his popular Fifine at the Fair and The Pagan Symphony in 1992, which is when I personally came under the spell of his music. Since then there has been a continuous stream of releases. I have had the pleasure of reviewing each one, initially in international print media and more recently on this site.
I remember vividly an occasion when Vernon Handley addressed an audience of British Music enthusiasts and recalled how one of his orchestral musicians at a recording session of a Bantock orchestral work had demanded to know: “Who was this chap, Bantock? This music is really good – so why haven’t we heard of him before?”
This new recording allows us to appreciate Bantock’s art in the smaller-scale format of music for piano. Maria Marchant, who clearly demonstrates a loving empathy for this music, delights in displaying her formidable technical and expressive facility in these contrasting colourful pieces that are receiving their first recordings here.
The opening piece Chanson de Mai (May Song) is a delightful, sparkling little gem. Those who know and love Bax’s Morning Song (Maytime in Sussex) will recognise its character and form.
Bantock, not the most faithful of husbands, dallied elsewhere (obeying the spirit of Fifine). He had a very serious affair with a lady in the town of Saphire in North Carolina, USA. They planned to make their relationship permanent but sadly World War II intervened. Memories of Saphire is a lyrical yet, one feels, an intense tribute to their love. The opening Largamente espressivo is rather brusque and masculine; impatient, assertive and determined yet with a tender edge, stirred to passion. The central Lento cantabile is correspondingly femininely compliant and effusively, tenderly romantic. The Allegretto delicate final piece is playfully romantic and rather ballet-like.
Cloisters at Midnight is an impressive and evocative piece very suggestive of its descriptive title, shifting seamlessly from delicate calm to the religious grandiose. Barcarolle has Italian delights, although one might think of a Neapolitan scene rather than a set piece in Venice. Reverie follows the tradition of popular salon music of the day. Parade March is a hoot. Dedicated to a Sir Herbert Dowbiggin and the Ceylon Police Force it seems, to this reviewer, to lampoon, very much in the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The challenging Two Scottish Pieces allow Maria Marchant to show off her considerable virtuosity.
Bantock’s Symphonic Overture Saul is the most considerable item in the programme.
This reduction from Bantock’s orchestral version (for a Brahms/Tchaikovsky-sized orchestra) sounds big, robust and colourful. The influence of Richard Strauss is clear (especially of Til Eulenspiegel). Here also is an early representation of the oriental music that would inform so much of Bantock’s music in later years. Marchant again seizes every expressive opportunity.
Finally there are the Twelve Piano Pieces, a programme of contrasts. The first item, Rhapsode, is full-blooded, Liszt-like; the final Romance is a lovely tender melody that lingers in the memory. In between there is the limpid starlit beauty of the Nocturne, the supplicatory Preghiera, and other delights.
Previous review: Nick Barnard