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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
The Granger Edition Volume 16: Works for Solo Piano, Volume 1.
Klavierstücke: Preludes – G; C. Birthday Gift – Gigue. Andante con moto. Klavierstücke – D; E; A minor; B flat. Peace. Saxon Twi-Ply. Eastern Intermezzo. English Waltz. At Twilight. Train Music. Sailor's Song. Walking Tune, RMTB No. 3. Three Scottish Folktunes – No. 1, O gin I were where Gadie runs; Will ye gang to the Hielands, Leezie Lindsay?; Mo Nighean Dubh. Scotch Strathspey and Reel. Seven men from all the world. Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz. Irish Tune from County Derry, BFMS No. 6. Near Woodstock Town. In Dahomey (‘Cakewalk Smasher’).
Penelope Thwaites (piano).
Recorded in St Paul’s, Knightsbridge on April 3rd-5th, 2000. [DDD]
CHANDOS CHAN9895 [78.01)

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Penelope Thwaites’ résumé in the accompanying booklet leaves the reader in no doubt of her devotion to the Grainger cause. She was Artistic Director of London's first international Grainger Event at St Johns, Smith Square in 1998 and presented Grainger as BBC Radio Three's Composer of the Week in 1996. In 1991, she received the Percy Grainger Society's Medallion for services to the composer's music. Her booklet notes to her own recital are exemplary.

There are several premiere recordings here: the two preludes, the Gigue (from Birthday Gift) and Seven men from all the world. In this repertoire, there are various other pianists one should consider. Of these, the most direct comparison is Martin Jones on Nimbus (NI1767, a five disc set). Neither pianist takes the breath consistently away, either as a virtuoso or in their ability to make the piano sing, although Jones shows a consistent musicianship which is always pleasing.

Thwaites has decided to work through Grainger’s output based on the date of genesis of a work’s idea (even if this did not turn up on piano until much later). So, all of the pieces on this disc date, originally at least, from the decade 1893-1903. The juvenilia of the Bach-inspired Preludes and of the Klavierstücke, whilst interesting and pleasant to hear will never, I think, go through my speakers again. If the E major Klavierstück is merely pretty, at least it avoids the meandering of the A minor. Perhaps if I had to choose a return visit to any of the works on this disc, it would be to the Eastern Intermezzo (originally 1898/9, set for piano in 1922). Grainger would hear the Chinese community of his childhood perform in Melbourne, and this probably led to this clearly affectionate tribute.

Thwaites’ strengths are nostalgia and simplicity. So, the Walking Tune is plainly but effectively presented, and the Three Scotch Folksongs are imbued with integrity as well as warmth. For Near Woodstock Town (1903 for chorus, arranged for piano in 1951), Grainger employed more progressive harmonies: Thwaites, to her credit, maintains the nostalgic element here.

Perhaps she could have played the showier pieces with more abandon and let her hair down more in the Flower Waltz Paraphrase (although she clearly enjoys the more florid passages). The final In Dahomey (subtitled ‘Cakewalk Smasher’), suffers a similar fate.

It is always disappointing when the booklet notes are more interesting than the music they refer to. The musicological interest of this issue is great, and libraries should avail themselves of a copy as a matter of course. The purely musical interest, may I suggest, is somewhat less.

Colin Clarke


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