Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy is one of his masterpieces.
Written originally for wind band, and arranged shortly afterwards
for two pianos, the six movements are more than arrangements of
English folksongs. They seem to be free fantasias, moving where
the musical fancy took the composer. The colourfulness of the
band version is missing in this arrangement, but the textures
are clearer. It’s like drinking a glass of water as opposed to
vintage port. Unfortunately, the sheer scale of the final two
pieces - Lord Melborne: War
Song and The Lost Lady
Found: Dance Song – is lost. If you can clear your memory
of the Eastman Wind and the London Wind Ensemble’s performances
then there’s no problem. Grainger did himself a slight disservice
by making this arrangement because of this miscalculation – one
of the very few he ever made, it must be said.
this, the major portion of the programme is rather less interesting.
Sonata takes to the Old Testament for its starting
point. It’s a serious piece commissioned by the International
Society for Russian Jewry. The outer sections of the first
movement are lovely but the middle section, punctuated by
loud repeated chords in the bass, is somewhat banal – we’ve
heard it before. The notes tell us that the movement ends
with a return to the pathos of the opening theme. Simplicity
would be a better and more honest word, because it is this
very simplicity which makes the slower music so good. The
middle, slow, movement is interrupted twice by faster music
but I don’t really feel a progression from start to finish.
The finale is described as jubilant – rather heavy handed
jubilation – then comes a section of sinister foreboding.
I might have enjoyed the work more had I not bothered with
the notes. Overall, I find little growth in the music, and
no real purpose. Give me more of the contemplative music from
the first movement; there was really interesting stuff which
could be worked upon.
disk ends with Ramskill’s Bagatelles. These are three
small jazzy pieces much in the manner of Constant Lambert’s
Trois pièces nègres pour les touches
blanches but lacking that work’s
easy and laid back communication. These are pleasant enough,
and they won’t scare the horses, but neither this nor the
Downes leaves me wanting to hear any more of these composer’s
Downes and Ramskill comes Malcolm Arnold’s raucous Ragtime
- written when he was 19 years old - which shows exactly how
to marry classical and jazzy languages with consummate ease.
in all, this disk is a bit of a mixed blessing, half of it
being well worth repeated hearings, and the performances are
very good and committed. The recorded sound is a bit tinny
but the ear quickly adjusts to this.