Gramophone guest blog

Bringing Bantock in from the cold

Maria MarchantWed 6th June 2018

How wandering from the beaten track can lead to some remarkable musical discoveries

A year or so ago, I was looking at composer anniversaries to put together suggested programmes for piano recitals in 2018. Interestingly, Bantock appeared on a rather random Google search – having been born in 1868, 2018 would be his 150th anniversary. Granville Bantock: that was a name that made me stop and think. I’d come across some of his larger works such as Atalanta in Calydon, the Hebridean Symphony and some of his songs but I had never heard of his piano works.

A whole heap of questions ensued in my mind – had Bantock written anything for piano? If he had, I’d never come across them either on disc or on the concert platform. Further online research yielded some intriguing information – he had written many, many piano works and only two pieces of this considerable oeuvre had ever been put on disc. Why? I realised there was only one way to find out and had a deep inclination to track down the scores, play them through and make my own mind up about his music.

Meeting with Dr Cuillin Bantock, Granville Bantock’s grandson proved both illuminating and fascinating and whetted my appetite completely – how is it that this composer, the dedicatee of Sibelius’s Third Symphony, co-founder of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and successor to Elgar, on Elgar’s recommendation, as Peyton Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham, could have been so ignored in a genre in which he seemed to be so prolific? Cuillin and the Bantock Estate agreed and before long, I’d blocked off so-called ‘Bantock Days’ in my diary to work through as many scores as I could find, play the repertoire through and compile what incredibly appears to be the first ever list of Bantock’s piano works.

What I discovered amazed both myself and Cuillin – the diverse repertoire varied enormously from the heightened romanticism of Memories of Sapphire to the dramatic and Straussian Saul, based on events in 1 Samuel, and the fiendish Scottish pieces – some of which on three staves was virtually unplayable, stretching the piano to its limits.

An email and meeting with Siva Oke, MD of SOMM Recordings proved that my initial gut reaction, instinct and belief in the musical integrity of this untapped, neglected repertoire was of interest and plans for the first disc dedicated to Bantock’s piano music came into place, entirely comprising first recordings. With no information available to consult for timings and the imminent launch of my debut SOMM CD, ‘Echoes of Land & Sea’, putting together the repertoire list for the proposed CD was no easy feat. I always record from memory so the weeks between my debut CD launch in September 2017 and the Bantock recording sessions in November were incredibly intensive, learning and committing this eclectic, brilliant and innovative repertoire to heart, soul and mind.

As I turned up to the recording sessions at Turner Sims, Southampton with this very fresh and what felt like completely intuitive repertoire in my head and muscles, I was genuinely excited at the weekend ahead. The calm and experienced Siva Oke and Paul Arden-Taylor produced and engineered the sessions as they had for my debut CD and playing on the same, wonderfully responsive Steinway D brought comfort.

I like recording with very dim lighting, really quite dark, with just the piano and me in the concert hall itself to bond and work together sending notes and emotions through the wires up to Control. The rest remains to be seen as to how listeners and musicians around the world will view Bantock’s piano music. I know my mind is made up – this repertoire from, as Robert Matthew-Walker states ‘one of the most influential British composers of his – or any other – generation … the master-craftsman’, deserves to be performed regularly in concert programmes worldwide - and I can’t think when I’ve been more grateful for the results of a random Google search… 

Maria Marchant's album 'Bantock Rediscovered' is out now. Visit somm-recordings.com to find out more.

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