I suspect that to many
music lovers Percy Grainger is the name
of a composer whose music is unknown
to them apart from a jolly, folksy dance
piece called Country Gardens,
probably played on the piano. For those
for whom that is the case, then this
disc of piano pieces may come as a big
surprise. Although some of the music
is recognisably in County Gardens
mode, a great deal of it is slow and
ruminating, sounding like leisurely
improvisations. Sometimes, as in the
first piece, Lullaby from ‘Tribute
to Foster’, it is decorated with
virtuoso figurations that make the music
sound akin to late Liszt (but less harmonically
Grainger, a superb
pianist, recognised that these technical
difficulties were an inhibition to the
spread of his piano music for domestic
use so in the 1930s he rearranged many
pieces, cutting out the more daunting
pianistics. This disc allows us to hear
some results. For example the Foster
Lullaby is also played in a
version shorn of its Lisztian pyrotechnics.
It sounds a completely different piece.
In another case where
two versions are presented, the simple
and touching Bridal Lullaby gets
an extended, virtuoso rendering that
Grainger calls a "ramble".
It is a good word for his improvisations
and this one is taken from a piano roll
recording he made in 1918.
The disc is volume
19 in Chandos’s heroic undertaking to
record Grainger’s work and the third
of solo piano music. One of the problems
the editors are faced with is the version
issue; one that plagues Grainger scholarship
in general. The composer was much prone
to producing different arrangements
of his works (and in some cases, as
above, recording on piano roll only)
so it is sometimes not possible to point
to a definitive version of a piece.
Chandos is going the whole hog with
a policy to record them all where possible.
So one result is that we get the evergreen
Country Gardens on this disc
in an easy version never recorded before.
It is the seventh Chandos has recorded
so far within the series, ranging from
this one to one for full orchestra.
Penelope Thwaites plays
all the solo piano music in the series.
Brought up in Grainger’s native Australia
she is noted as a specialist in the
composer’s music. There is a clear affinity
for the music and not only does she
cope well with the virtuoso elements
but - equally difficult to pull off
– she makes fiendish figurations normally
associated with pianistic bombast sound
delicate in accompanying a lullaby.
Sometimes I thought the dance/march
music a little hefty, for example the
Children’s March ‘Over the Hills
and Far Away’ sounded to me rather
heavy booted for youngsters. Of course,
it is possible to compare some of her
playing with Grainger himself. Grainger’s
rendering of Country Gardens
is faster than Thwaites’ with a kind
of panache that incorporates some lurching
eccentricities. Nimbus Records has produced
a disc of Grainger piano roll realisations
which were made by the composer mostly
in the 1920s and you can buy it at budget
price. At full price there is Hyperion’s
disc of piano music played by Marc-André
Hamelin. I haven’t heard it but it did
receive ecstatic reviews.
The advantage of this
Chandos disc is that if you like it
you can buy the other piano music discs
for a full complementary set. I certainly
found it very enjoyable and fascinating
to compare some of the different versions
of pieces. And I defy anyone not to
be seduced by Grainger’s "ramble"
on Strauss’s final love duet from Der