> Percy Grainger - The Warriors [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
The Warriors - music to an imaginary ballet (1916)
Beautiful Fresh Flower orch Peter SCULTHORPE (1935) *
Hill-Song No. 1 (1902, 1923) *
Hill-Song No. 2 (1907) *
Irish Tune from County Derry (1902)
Colleen Dhas (1904)
Danish Folk-Music Suite (1928 rev 1941)
Glen Riddle, Ben Martin, Denise Harvey (pianos in The Warriors)
Claire Clements (piano in Danish Folk-Music Suite)
* world premiere recordings
Melbourne SO/Geoffrey Simon
rec 1989 DDD
ABC CLASSICS 426989-2 [66.50]



Beecham developed a reputation for enthusing, inciting, even bullying, composers into writing pieces for him and then moving on to ‘greater things’. So it was with Walton and Belshazzar's Feast (add in a couple of brass bands; you'll never hear it again anyway!) and so it was also with Percy Grainger and The Warriors.

Having conducted the premiere of English Dance Beecham suggested that Grainger write a ballet and Beecham would provide the scenario. These were the gaudy days of the Ballets Russes and perhaps Beecham had an eye to striking a deal with Diaghilev. As it turned out nothing seems to have happened on Beecham's side. Grainger however wrote the score of the 'Imaginary Ballet' - The Warriors between December 1913 and December 1916.

The Warriors is an orgiastic festivity, rather like a great dancing pageant with touches of Petrushka and a splendidly dissolute Ivesian complexity. Simon catches this very well though he misses the hell-for-leather intoxication of a performance by the Gerard Schwarz (1970s private tape - Waterloo Festival Orchestra) and the John Eliot Gardiner conducted version on DG (coupled with The Planets). Musichall excess, lapses of taste (try 16.31), amorous interludes, great rockslide screes of activity all pour in and even some nobilmente right out of the Pomp and Circumstance marches and from Parry's Jerusalem. The three pianos punctuate and limn the outlines of the action with a hint of jazziness (à la Rio Grande) and a dash of Winter Legends (a work still ten years in the future). There are episodes of Baxian repose as at 11.04 in the song of the cor anglais.

Stephen Lloyd, in his very thorough and consistently interesting note, reminds us that Grainger's mind's eye imagined the music to a scene of male and female warriors from every land and every time. This universality reminds us of the world's communion as evoked by Alan Bush in many of his works including the song-cycle The Voice of the Prophets. As ever Grainger hymned the glories of the human body and for him all the better if its setting was some vast jamboree, an assemblage of fighting folk celebrating their strength in dance and in love-making; very appropriate really as this work represents one exhausting orgasmic explosion of exhilaration.

The orchestra for The Warriors is a peculiar one. I have mentioned the three pianos. There is also an offstage band (heard in nice distance subtly at 12.38 onwards). There are six horns, wooden and steel marimbas, bass oboe, tubular and staff bells, celesta and harps.

Beautiful Fresh Flower is a realisation of a Chinese song. It cannot help sounding a little like the revivalist hymn Yes Jesus Loves Me and slowly rippling with the sort of string sonority we associate with Roy Harris and with mid-period Vaughan Williams as in the Concerto Grosso. A warm Barbirolli-like lushness glows off the surface of the Irish Tune from County Derry. Colleen Dhas is caught in delight between Vaughan Williams at his most approachably folksy and Delius the singer.

The First Hill Song is a major piece. If The Warriors had eternity's soldiery as its subject Hill Song No. 1 looks to the hills. The high places here include the ‘soul-shaking’ landscapes of West Argyll. Grainger envisioned a much wider reference field than just the Caledonian mountain terrain. These Hill Songs were a celebration of hill peoples, hill music and hill countries everywhere. Rather as in The Warriors we must imagine the highlands of the Tatras (cf Karłowicz and Novák) as well as the Derbyshire Hills (Hadley) and the Norwegian mountains (Delius). We might have been hard put trying to find any Delius in The Warriors but there are Delian inflections, shapes and ciphers in this music. Simon is exceptional at the sharply accented rhythmic work in a piece that tends to vertical murkiness. The much shorter Second Hill Song has the rhythmic crackling snap of Bax's Northern Rhapsody No. 1 although it resolves into a warm hazy horizon.

The four movements of the Danish Folk-Music suite are: The Power of Love (with its trumpet cantilena), Lord Peter's Stable-Boy (a blowsy, smocked-yokels galumph rather in partnership with Shepherd Fennel's Dance by Delius's friend Balfour Gardiner - now there's a man whose music demands of us a complete CD anthology), The Nightingale and the Two Sisters (surprisingly lush - like an archetypically generous John Barry tune) and the Jutish Medley (jaunty, untamed, bellicose, serenading, diverse and jolly).

This is a nice disc and one which would serve as a warming introduction to the orchestral side of Percy Grainger's genius. It cuts a necessarily broader swathe through the repertoire than the scholarly progression of the Hickox/Chandos Grainger Edition. The Warriors and the two Hill Songs make this a very desirable acquisition for those who fancy a single disc anthology of the music of this most rebellious and eccentric of composers.

Rob Barnett

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