Vernon Handley

Granville Bantock: Overture to a Greek Tragedy; Josef Holbrooke: The Birds of Rhiannon; Cyril Rootham: Symphony No. 1

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If Elgar and Vaughan Williams are first-rate English composers from the first half of the twentieth century, and Delius and Bax are second-rate, does that make Granville Bantock third-rate, Joseph Holbrooke fourth-rate, and Cyril Rootham fifth-rate? Maybe, but their music, at least as exemplified by the works on this Lyrita disc, is nevertheless still eminently listenable. Bantock, the best known of the three with multiple recordings of several works, is represented here by his Overture to a Greek Tragedy: Oedipus at Colonus played by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Nicholas Braithwaite. Though clearly not a work of lasting impact (the influence of Strauss is too strong and the composer's own identity is too weak), Bantock's quarter-hour Overture is a powerful, colorful, and occasionally memorable work. Holbrooke, who has one whole disc devoted to his music, is represented here by The Birds of Rhiannon played by the London Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley. Though a lesser work than Bantock's, Holbrooke's quarter-hour précis of his operatic trilogy based on Welsh mythology will entertain and enlighten those fans of English music who have always wondered what a Welsh Wagner would sound like. Rootham, the least known with only one other piece on one other recording to his credit, is represented here by his Symphony No. 1 in C minor also played by the London Philharmonic led by Handley. A skillfully written and deeply felt work in four movements with a modernist cast but a romantic soul, Rootham's Symphony may not change the course of global warming or lower the interest rate, but it will be gratefully welcomed by those who've already memorized Vaughan Williams' Fourth, Walton's First, and Bax's Fifth.

Superbly recorded in clean, fresh stereo by Lyrita, this disc may be only for those who already know and love all the first- and second-rate English music of the first half of the twentieth century, but they will surely enjoy it.

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