- Omar Khayyam, for soloists, chorus & orchestra
Granville Bantock (1868-1946) was never one for doing things on a small scale, and his complete setting of Edward Fitzgerald's translation of The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyám attests to the scope of his vision. The oratorio, which lasts over three hours and requires a huge orchestra and chorus, is unlikely to find a place on many concert programs, but a recording offers the listener the ideal opportunity to savor it in manageable chunks. It's a very attractive piece that suffered from the bad timing of its premiere, which was very close to that of "The Kingdom" by the much more famous Edward Elgar. Bantock's style is similar to Elgar's, and any Elgar fan should find much here to appreciate. His music reflects the sound of late nineteenth century Germans, particularly Brahms, but there is a Wagnerian influence as well. Debussy's aesthetic is also in evidence in the harmonic movement of the more "exotic" sections, and there are moments of languid lushness that are similar to the soundworld of "Gurrelieder," whose premiere it predates. While Bantock didn't have a particularly original vision, his canny combination of a variety of influences, his skillful orchestration and vocal and choral writing, and the epic sweep of his lyricism make "Omar Khayyám" a very appealing piece. It doesn't have enough variety to fully sustain interest for three hours, but taken in smaller doses, it has much to commend it. It receives a stellar performance by the BBC Symphony and Chorus, led by Vernon Handley, who lovingly shapes the colorful score. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers, tenor Toby Spence, and Roderick Williams sing with warmth, robust tone, and passionate intensity. The sound of Chandos' SACD is full, clean, and spacious.