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Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
The Warriors Music to an Imaginary Ballet (1916) [17:55]
Irish Tune from County Derry (1920) [5:26]
Danish Folk-Music Suite (1928 revised 1941) [18:56]
Hill-Song No.1 (1902) [13:10]
Beautiful Fresh Flower (1935) – arranged Peter Sculthorpe [2:34]
Colleen Dhas (1904) [3:05]
Hill-Song No.2 (1907) [4:47]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Geoffrey Simon
rec. South Melbourne Town Hall, February 1989
CALA CACDS 4033 [66:46]


A whole raft of Geoffrey Simon’s Philharmonia discs have been restored to the catalogue by Cala in SACD format. He made some recordings of French repertoire with the LPO as well. And of course he also made recordings in Australia amongst which this Melbourne outing was one of the most splendidly attractive.

Its central point of interest, even amongst such things as the two Hill-Songs and Danish Folk-Music Suite, remains the scintillating drama of The Warriors. It’s only eighteen minutes in length but manages to pack in a visceral punch aided by the three pianos and the battery of percussion and the off-stage trumpets. Evoking mythical heroes and heroines Grainger veers from bacchanal to languorously erotic. The “orgy of war-like dances, processions and merry-makings” is vivid and vertiginous; the “amorous interludes” exploit his gift for evocative string layers, the whole piece pulsating to the rhythms of martial and terpsichorean abandon. The Melbourne Symphony and Simon have its measure to a wonderful degree – corporate virtuosity and flair are here in abundance. We go from jazzily brazen brass to intimations of Gershwin - I thought of the Gershwin of An American in Paris. And we also veer from moments of almost dainty reflection to Baxian half tint (try the very Baxian oboe at 10.20), to a bold Elgarian climax and those rich unison brass calls. In short this is a score throbbing with invention and licence. The sensuous violin solo, the kaleidoscopic textures, and the loquacious audacity mark this out as a benchmark Grainger recording.

The Hill-Songs are strongly characterised and differentiated and are in their fullest orchestral versions here. No.1 is rich with whole tones and moments of Delian inspiration. No.2 makes a fine contrast being faster and full of brio. The Danish Folk-Music Suite contains four sections; The Power of Love, Lord Peter’s Stable-Boy, The Nightingale and The Two Sisters, and finally the long Jutish Medley.  The first of these is one of Grainger’s most beautiful lyric creations whilst the second has a fresh air feel with the solo piano once again very much to the fore in the aural perspective. The third movement was dedicated to Grainger’s close friend the cellist Herman Sandby, which accounts for the long and expressive cello solo. Grainger’s control of the eloquent string lines is a constant delight.

The smaller items are hardly makeweights. The Irish Tune from County Derry is Danny Boy naturally and its harmonically coiling twists keep one on edge. Beautiful Fresh Flower is heard in Peter Sculthorpe’s orchestration – complete with harp shimmer and a reflective and benign tam-tam at the end. Colleen Dhas is a folk setting of great warmth – one of his first such.

An auspicious return for this disc then. The SACD format hasn’t given quite so much of a sense of immediacy as did a recent Respighi-Simon disc but the original recording of the Grainger was fine in any case. Classic Grainger for your collection.

Jonathan Woolf






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