> Percy Grainger - Gems for piano [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Gems for piano

Danish Folksong Suite : The power of love - The nightingale and the two sisters - Jutish melody
One more day, my John
Knight and shepherd’s daughter
Near Woodstock town
Country gardens
The Sussex mummer’s Christmas carol
To a Nordic princess
Love at first sight
Children’s march
Bridal lullaby
Handel in the Strand
Colonial song
Nell
Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz
Now, oh how I needs must part

Penelope Thwaites (piano)
Recorded at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London NW3 on 6/7 February 1992
REGIS RRC 1107 [69. 21]

This generous helping of the witty and charming music of Percy Grainger has been lovingly put together by his compatriot, the Australian pianist Penelope Thwaites, and excellent playing it all is too. One has this image from Ken Russell’s film of the wacky Grainger pushing Delius’s bathchair downhill at breakneck speed or charging through the house to catch successfully a tennis ball he has just thrown over the roof from the back to the front. Occasionally this music brings such images to mind. But he was more than just dotty. The very first track, The Power of Love, was written after his mother committed suicide by jumping from a New York skyscraper in 1922, and is an intensely moving piece of music, while the last of the three constituting this suite is derived from folksong, a hugely important influence in Grainger’s musical thinking. Such folksong arrangements continue in familiar English vein as the disc proceeds. In the hauntingly grandiose Colonial Song (with its interesting chords in its latter stages), and one senses a desire to employ twenty-one pianos at the climaxes rather than just one, with all those glissandi not really an adequate solution. To conclude this CD there are three arrangements by Grainger (discreetly done it must be said) of the music of three completely varied composers - you cannot conceive of a more bizarre journey than from Fauré back to Dowland via a very camp Flower Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. It is a nice touch for Ms Thwaites to bid farewell to her listener in the last track with such a highly appropriate title, though whether Dowland would have come up with some of those final harmonisations is highly questionable.

Penelope Thwaites is a formidable pianist, always imbuing her playing with a colourful palette of mood and tone. Some of the works are exceedingly complex (occasionally more suited to other versions made by Grainger himself for two pianos), others notably simple. Not all the songs were the fruits of Grainger’s collecting labours. Cecil Sharp was, for example, responsible for the familiar Country Gardens. But Grainger’s work in this field from 1906 onwards was both vitally important and technically imaginative, notating precise rhythms of the singers by slowing down the recording process using a phonograph, hence the varying time signatures in the piano scores of these tunes. He even goes so far as to ask the pianist to imitate an Aeolian harp in The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter. Further eccentricities abound, such as using the fist to play the final bars in Country Gardens, which puts a new slant on Morris dancing. Occasionally one feels an urge to call out ‘get on with it’ but once he does just that, the music has that irresistible Graingeresque rhythmic swagger. Country Gardens is an unbeatable tune (so too are Handel in the Strand and Shepherd’s Hey), beautifully arranged, and impressively played here (Grainger was himself a pianist of considerable prowess). In short, a highly satisfying mix of familiar fare with less commonly heard music by this fascinatingly original composer and strangely complex man.

Christopher Fifield


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