ENDNOTES, August 2018
In this edition: a flourish, from Sir Granville Bantock on the Somm label; piano sonatas by Beethoven, and Elgar’s Second Symphony, from Chandos Records, reviewed by STUART MILLSON
Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946) was a noted composer, conductor and teacher in his day. He established an orchestra at the once-fashionable resort of New Brighton on the North-West coast of England, and presided over a new musical curriculum at the Midland Institute and at Birmingham University. He made many atmospheric arrangements of Tudor and old English tunes; wrote a Tchaikovsky-like Russian suite, alive with colour and local flavour; and penned Pagan and Hebridean symphonies. New from Somm Records comes a CD devoted to Bantock’s equally vivid piano music: Saul, Twelve Pieces– and best of all (and in the outdoor spirit of the Hebridean Symphony), Two Scottish Pieces. Played by the ever-sensitive and rare-repertoire enthusiast, Maria Marchant, the north-of-the-border scenes are delightful pieces of tone-painting, yet infused and animated by an authentic sense of Caledonian traditional music: TheHills of Glenorchy– a quickstep, that nevertheless conveys a sense of longing; and The Brobers of Brechin– a reel (possibly dedicated to whisky and good cheer), with a magnificent, mountain-torrent of an ending, resoundingly performed by Marchant. With a fine portrait of Bantock on the CD cover and a graceful, detailed recording quality, this is one edition which enthusiasts of rare British music will take to their hearts.
Piano music of a completely different kind now – a complete collection of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, one of the rising stars of classical music and a recitalist now in huge demand. Beethoven’s sonatas stand as examples of absolute music: no obvious watercolour scene-painting, no direct allusions to places or events. Instead, works that by their very highest craftsmanship and beauty stand for the “language” of Western European music in its purest form. And yet, their “music-for-music’s-sake” genius still brings to the mind’s eye the world around us: the Sonata Op. 26, ‘The Pastoral’ , so understated and effortless at Bavouzet’s fingertips – especially in the light hearted second and third movements – surely a late-August day conjured in music? And the famous ‘Moonlight’ sonata , No. 14 in C minor, Op. 27, No. 2– composed in 1801 – not originally about a nocturnal experience at all, but rather a nickname, which came from a review by the poet, Heinrich Rellstab. He stated that the first movement (in truth, quite world-weary and funereal in tone) evoked the memory of moonlight on Lake Lucerne – and so the image has stuck. Then we come to ‘The Tempest’ sonata– as far as I know, not a portrait of Prospero and his island, or a storm, but rather, a remarkable, compelling Largo-Allegro-Adagio-Largo-Allegro-Largo-Allegro structure.
The great Appassionata, Op. 57 stands out on this disc as surely one of the great interpretations of the work – at least from a contemporary artist on a modern recording. The shadows and subdued energy of the first movement – almost like rumbles of approaching greatness – are contrasted by the gentle trills which punctuate the section, typical Beethovenian touches which add air and light.
From Chandos, again, comes another distinguished production – this time, the Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 63, by Elgar. Dedicated to the memory of “His late Majesty, King Edward Vll” – and the score prefaced by Shelley’s words, “Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight!” – the recording captures the surging energy of the first and third movements; and the noble, end-of-empire nostalgia of the second movement – the emotional heart of this symphonic pilgrimage.
In the recording studio (the excellent balance of the Watford Colosseum), Chandos have captured the BBC Symphony Orchestra at its full height and breadth of sound, colour and commitment – the large ensemble and large-scale score kept moving in energetic time and motion under the impassioned direction of Edward Gardner. A conductor of the younger generation who has established his credentials as an Elgarian of the first rank, Gardner brings out the emotions of Elgar’s music.
The recording featured some stunning horn playing in the first and second movements – the BBC SO horn section (on their very best form) roaring their great statements, but the sound never blaring or overwhelming the whole ensemble. The large body of strings also maintains a flowing foundation to the work and a unified strength which is majestic and very deep in tone; and in the third movement Rondo, thrilling timpani strokes mark out the angles and abruptness of this anarchic, overheated, eight-minute surge. Listen, especially, to the almost ghostly timpani stroke, close to the end of the movement; and to the thrilling reprise of the music as it gathers for one final cascade and crash.
Elgar is often described as the English Brahms and in works such as the Symphony No. 2, The Dream of Gerontius and the Violin Concerto, he indeed finds that “Spirit of Delight” – of inspiration – which makes him truly great.
CD’s; Bantock, Somm 0183: Beethoven, Chandos 10960: Elgar, Chandos 5197
Stuart Millson is Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review. He has dedicated this article to the memory of his father, Terrence William Millson (1930-2018), who loved Elgar’s Second Symphony
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