Bantock: Hebridean Symphony; Pagan Symphony

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While not perhaps the most luxuriantly and voluptuously decadent composer of turn-of-the-century England -- there's always Delius -- Granville Bantock (1868-1946) was certainly a close second. Mixing uneven amounts of overwrought Tchaikovsky, over-scored Strauss, and over-burdened Wagner with a thick impasto of pseudo-Celtic malarkey, the best of Bantock's works rank with the worst works composed in the first decades of the twentieth century.

That said, this disc is the one disc to hear if you want to hear the best of Bantock. The Pagan Symphony from 1927 is a symphonic poem on the subject of Pagan Antiquity with plenty of Dionysic revels and Callipygian capers. The Hebridean Symphony from 1915 is Celtic malarkey cut with scraps of Strauss and cloaked in the orchestral rags of Wagner. But, like all bad art, Bantock's is completely sincere and he is at his most sincere here: the themes are stirring but sincere, the harmonies are sensual but sincere, the rhythms are either languorous or hysterical, but there is no doubt that Bantock meant every caress and every thrust.

Likewise, there can be little doubt that the conductors and orchestra in these 1968 recordings mean to do their best with Bantock. Maurice Handford with the BBC Northern in the Pagan Symphony gives as much cogency to the lines and as much drive to the tempos as the music will bear and Adrian Boult with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the Hebridean Symphony holds the limp shapes and soggy forms of the score as taut as much as is possible. The orchestras play with the dedication and the ensemble of provincial orchestras giving their best. Intaglio's air check sound is more than tolerable, but not much more.