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Percy GRAINGER (1882 - 1961)
Lullaby from ‘Tribute to Foster’
One More Day, My John
A Bridal Lullaby
Knight and Shepherd’s Daughter
Children’s March ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’
Bridal Lullaby Ramble
Spoon River
Ramble on the Last Love-Duet from Strauss’s ‘Der Rosenkavalier’
Danish Folk-Music Suite
To a Nordic Princess
Blithe Bells
Walking Tune from The Easy Grainger
Lullaby from ‘Tribute to Foster’ from The Easy Grainger
Proud Vesselil from The Easy Grainger
Rimmer and Goldcastle from The Easy Grainger
Irish Tune from County Derry from The Easy Grainger
Country Gardens
The Immovable Do
Beautiful Fresh Flower
Chinese Melody
Now, Oh Now I Needs Must Part
Penelope Thwaites piano
Recorded Suffolk, UK, 2003
The Grainger Edition Volume 19
CHANDOS CHAN 10205 [75:49]

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 adventurous).

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 Rosenkavalier.

John Leeman

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