Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Tuneful Percussion
Recorded 1999
move MD 3222 [54.15]
divine art
(UK importer)  move records

Percy Grainger (1882 -1961) tends to be dismissed as a wacky composer who threw off the traces of his German (Frankfurt) musical education (which he did) and became a musical free-thinker (which he did) with tongue-in-cheek instructions to his performers (replacing or reinforcing Italian terms such as forte with phrases such as 'louden lots') and no serious side to him. Not true; not only was he a brilliant pianist, but also a gatherer of musical material from his native Australia in the best tradition of Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams (not forgetting that from 1914 he became an American citizen and died there). Grainger was also a close friend of Grieg and loved Scandinavia (particularly Denmark), had an equally strong friendship with Delius, pioneered the collection of British folksongs with the phonograph, and, in 1938, established a Grainger Museum in Melbourne with the same ethnomusicological purpose in mind. The fruits of much of this potted biography can be found on this enterprising and (with some reservations) enjoyable CD.

A generous sixteen tracks, the percussionists Woof! (their ! not mine) provide a wide variety of tone colour and sound, the stick work impeccably refined and technically secure, in a blend of familiar tunes (Shepherd's Hey to start and Country Gardens to end) to the unfamiliar (Gamelan melodies), also included are arrangements of pieces by Balfour Gardiner, Debussy and Ravel. There are combinations of tuned percussion (and the word tuned important to note as Grainger eschewed untuned instruments such as drums, triangle, cymbals etc) with other instrumental families such as woodwinds and strings, and also voices (and these last mentioned provide the less successful moments where intonation sags at times and tone quality is not helped by the dead studio sound).

Despite this caveat the disc is well worth buying for the fascination of delving into Grainger's wonderfully imaginative writing, scoring and emancipated rhythms - eight of the tracks use his own specially designed Staff Bells and Steel Marimba - the booklet is packed with fascinating facts and photos but it's only a matter of time before magnifying glasses will have to come with every cd as a matter of course, because this one's printing is ridiculously tiny. Grainger was a man of his times, his past and his future, in short one to be reckoned with and taken seriously. This CD helps.

Christopher Fifield 



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