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The Chandos Grainger Edition Volume 15
Orchestral Works 3

Richard Hickox conducts the BBC Philharmonic
CHANDOS CHAN 9839 [70:25]
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You have to admire Percy Grainger's perspicacity. To help ensure performances of his works, he created multiple arrangements of them for all sorts of different instrumental and vocal combinations. He even created combinations of combinations.

This programme kicks off with Grainger's bracing Passacaglia on an English folk-tune - Green Bushes in its premier recording in this 1913 version that would have the academics throwing their arms up in dismay at its seemingly undisciplined, exuberant - even wild - progress. Hill Song No. 2 , equally invigoratingly and out-of-doors-ish, is presented here in its 1948 apparel for performance by symphony orchestra but without violins, trombones and tubas.

The seldom heard The Merry King, based on a folksong from West Sussex, belies its title and is a rather solemn little piece before it works up to an impassioned climax. Eastern Intermezzo is very colourful and great fun. It is recorded here in its 1933 version and, according to Barry Ould, Grainger pointed out that some of the musical procedures followed in this composition were drastic innovations at the time of its inception (1899) and that some of these to the best of his knowledge were then unknown in music at that time. One notices similarities in Grainger's friend Cyril Scott's music.

Colonial Song in its 1913 incarnation is very lovely and affecting - big-boned and very much heart-on-sleeve. Its lack of acceptance in England led Percy to feel 'not at home' here. The Americans loved it! Grainger wrote: "It is quite typical that America should welcome an avowedly Colonial and Australian piece and feel romantically about it as an expression of British Empire feeling, while England remains indifferent to it."

Of the well-known and vivacious Spoon River, Grainger wrote: "…is very archaic in character; typically American, yet akin to certain Scottish and English dance tune types…My setting [begun March 10th 1919 and ended February 1 1929] aims at preserving a pioneer blend of lonesome wistfulness and sturdy persistence."

Lord Maxwell's Goodnight in this version has the vocal line given to the woodwinds and brass; and, although they play in unison, Grainger makes clever use of them for each strophe.

The major item in the programme, and another less familiar work, is The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart. It is presented in its version for full symphony orchestra. Grainger hated the concept of the Roman Empire he felt that its 'poison' - "a privileged few catered to by a host of slaves" - had crept up through Europe to corrupt its peoples. Beginning with eerie remote organ chords, it contrasts, with huge orchestral climaxes, the brutal might of Rome with more sympathetic material suggesting the plight of the oppressed. At one point, there are Morse code like figures suggesting the spread of Rome's message. An extraordinary work that also has a more than passing reference to Rachmaninov.

The Immovable Do (or 'The Cyphering C') is a high drone on C which is sounded throughout the entire piece. This 1940 version for full orchestra has rich flowing melodic material and it rises to several dramatic climaxes. Grainger's 1920 vision of the Irish Tune from County Derry (County Derry Air) has unusual harmonic progressions making it sound unusually anguished and strained as well as proud and noble. Ye banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon is the affecting full orchestral version of 1936. Finally, there is the delightful high-spirited English Dance No. 1 performed in its second scoring from April 1906 to April 1909.

Richard Hickox and the BBC Philharmonic deliver sparkling and committed performances of all these tuneful delights.

Ian Lace

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