BANTOCK: Omar Khayyám
Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo-soprano; Roby Spence, tenor; Roderick Williams, baritone; BBC Symphony Chorus and Orch/Vernon Handley, cond.
CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5051 (3 disks) (F) TT: 58:14 & 73:08 & 40:09

SCHMIDT: Das Buch Mit Sieben Siegeln
Johannes Chum, tenor; Robert Holl, bass-baritone; Sandra Trattnigg, soprano; Nichelle Breedt, mezzo-soprano;Nikolai Schukoff, tenor; Manfred Hemm, bass; Robert Kovács, organ; Vienna Singverein; Lower Austrian Tonkünstler Orchh/Kristjan Järvi, cond.
CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5061 (2 disks) TT: 64;04 & 48:55

HAUSEGGER: Natursymphonie
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln; WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Ari Rasilainen, cond.
cpo SACD 777 237 TT: 56:37

Chandos here offers two massive works for soloists, chorus and orchestra, all splendidly recorded in state-of-the-art sonics. The label surely has championed music of Sir Granville Bantock and many of their recordings of his music have received glowing reviews on this site. Now we have the composer's major work, Omar Khayyám, his setting of Edward Fitzgerald's free translation of poems written by eleventh-century Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyám. Bantock set 101 quatrains and just about all of them are included here. Because of the length of the work, the composer authorized various cuts and alternative passages in parts II and III, and these are indicated in the accompanying full text. Even with these, total playing time is almost three hours. The general theme of the work is the transience of existence, and the insignificance of the individual no matter who that person is. As the CD notes say, Bantock's underlying message is certainly "Waste not your hour." Chandos' expansive program notes include a summary of the more than forty motifs and where they can be heard in the work. One of these includes the sound of "camel bells," the actual "instrument" used in early performances (heard in The Caravan on track 6 of CD II). Bantock's epic is exotic, richly scored and strongly influenced by Richard Strauss and Wagner. This dedicated performance is magnificent. The first-rate soloists, all of whom have excellent diction, have been balanced perfectly with the huge orchestra and chorus. CD notes state most of the performers were new to the work, were rightfully amazed by it, and considered it to be "the Hollywood epic of its time." This is a jewel in the Chandos catalog. The surround sound is full, rich, and wide-range, with all performers in front.

Franz Schmidt's huge oratorio Das Buch Mit Sieben Siegeln ("The Book with Seven Seals" )is his last and greatest work, an oratorio scored for six soloists, large chorus and a huge orchestra as well. S.G.S. will be reviewing this performance soon on this site, but in the meantime we'd like to point out that sonically this live performance recorded in Vienna's Musikverein in 2005, is another example of Chandos engineering at its best. Click here for SGS REVIEW.

Austrian composer and conductor Siegmund von Hausegger (1872-1948) was also a fine violinist: he gave the British premiere of the Sibelius violin concerto. Hausegger had a brief conducting career in the United States. In 1923 he became conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, a post he held for about a decade. During that period he made the first recordings of the Minneapolis Symphony, and some of these can be heard in the splendid Minnesota Orchestra At One Hundred 12-CD set. Hausegger composed masses, operas, symphonic poems and the "Nature Symphony for Large Orchestra and Chorus" which here receives its first recording. In 1913 Leopold Stokowski conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of his symphonic poem Wieland der Schmied (perhaps the only performances?). Hausegger was a champion of music of Anton Bruckner, the first to conduct the Symphony No. 9 in its original form. In 1938 he recorded the symphony with the Munich Philharmonic for HMV—I once owned the set of seven 78rpm disks, and remember instructions in the set that explained one side should be played twice. To avoid having an extra disk, producers advise when playing the scherzo second movement, one should play sides seven and eight, and then play side seven again—the music is the same. This performance, of great historic interest, is available on Preiser 90148. Hausegger's "Nature Symphony," composed in 1911, was strongly influenced by Wagner, Mahler and Strauss, evident from the opulent scoring. The orchestra is huge and includes much brass, percussion and organ plus a large chorus. The second of the four movements is a powerful funeral march, and in the last movement we hear the chorus singing about the importance of creativity, faith and knowledge. It all makes a mighty sound, and the performance is outstanding. CD notes contain profuse obfuscatingly verbose program notes by Eckhardt von den Hoogen that might mean something to scholars.The recording was made late in 2005 and January 2006 in Philharmonie Köln with Stephen Hahn in charge. He and his engineering staff did a superb job of capturing the massed sounds. The only negative element for this release is why wasn't something else included? Playing time is well less than an hour, and listeners would welcome the opportunity to hear more music by this neglected composer.

R.E.B. (May 2008)