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At Twilight. Choral Music by Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Irish Tune from County Derry [3:41] Dollar and a half a day [3:32]
Shenandoah [1:49]
Stormy [1:27]
The Gypsy's Wedding Day [1:53]
Brigg Fair [2:54]
Mo nighean dubh [4:53]
O mistress mine [1:50]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Four Psalms, Op. 74
How fair is Thy face [5:18]
God's Son hath set me free [6:18]
Jesus Christ our Lord is risen [7:18]
In heav'n above [5:37]
Ave, maris stella [3:36]
Soldier, soldier [3:27]
Mary Thomson [2:31]
Ye banks and braes [2:48]
Dalvisa [0:59]
Australian Up-Country Song [2:03]
Near Woodstock Town [2:34]
The Sussex Mummers' Carol [1:46]
A Song of Varmeland [2:38]
At twilight [4:19]
David Wilson-Johnson (baritone); Paul Agnew (tenor)/Polyphony/Stephen Layton
rec. Church of St. John-at-Hackney, London, 10-11 October 1994. DDD

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This is a welcome reissue of a disc that was previously available at full price as CDA66793.

It was a good idea to couple vocal music by these two composers. Meurig Bowen points out in an excellent booklet note that the two composers met in 1906 and though Grieg died not long afterwards, in the relatively short time between their meeting and Grieg’s death “a remarkable friendship and artistic affinity was struck up”. Taking the linkage one step further, this release intelligently juxtaposes a good deal of music by both composers that has its roots in folk music.

Grieg’s Four Psalms are not, perhaps, as well known as they might be, at least not outside Scandinavia – I can’t recall hearing them before. These are, in fact, his last completed compositions and are based on old Norwegian church melodies. They make an interesting set, the more so when they are as well sung as here. David Wilson-Johnson contributes excellent solos and Stephen Layton directs fine, committed performances. These pieces make an admirable foil for the secular Grainger settings. I have known – and loved – Grieg’s Ave, maris stella for years. It’s a little jewel but it’s not an easy piece to sing – as I’ve found out. Polyphony make it sound easy, however, in a rapt performance. I fully agree with Meurig Bowen’s suggestion that the piece is reminiscent of Bruckner’s Latin motets.

Works by Grainger occupy the lion’s share of the disc and one thing that’s striking is that although all the pieces are short – the longest lasts only just over four minutes – they display a wide musical range. Many of them are arrangements, rather than original compositions, and very skilful and sympathetic they are.  The three Sea-Chanty (sic) settings (tracks 2 – 4) are scored for male voices alone. As Meurig Bowen comments they “benefit from a ravishing sense of spatial sonority”. David Wilson-Johnson is a splendid soloist in all three pieces – and Paul Agnew is equally good in Dollar and a half a day. The three pieces are marvellously done.

I also enjoyed several of the folksong arrangements, particularly the lovely Near Woodstock Town and the sprightly The Gypsy's Wedding Day. The latter was one of a number of folksongs that Grainger collected on expeditions to Lincolnshire in 1905 and 1906. His most celebrated ‘catch’ from these trips was, of course, Brigg Fair. In this performance the plangent tenor solo is splendidly taken by James Gilchrist. 

Not all Grainger’s folksong settings were of English songs. There are a couple here from Sweden, including a wordless setting, Dalvisa. Scotland is represented, tellingly, by a fine setting of Burns’s Ye banks and braes and by Mo nighean dubh. The title of this song translates as ‘My dark-haired maiden’. It’s aptly described in the notes as tender and nostalgic. I loved the exquisite, touching performance that Layton and his choir deliver. The concluding piece, which gives the album its title, is one of the original compositions. It’s a gorgeous piece. It’s sung ravishingly with another fine solo, taken this time by Andrew Carwood.

In all honesty there isn’t a performance on the whole disc that is less than first class. Tuning, balance, clarity and diction are all excellent and Layton and his singers serve both composers admirably. The recording is very good indeed, allowing just the right amount of resonance but never sacrificing clarity for atmosphere. With excellent notes and full texts, the presentation is up to the usual high standards of the Hyperion stable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this disc and I hope that many other collectors will derive equal pleasure from it.

John Quinn


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