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Percy GRAINGER (1882–1961)
An Introduction to Percy Grainger
Country Gardens (version A, 1949) [2:21]
Irish Tune from County Derry [4:23]
Green Bushes (1905, 1921, BFMS12) [8:30]
Early One Morning (1901, 1940) [3:03]
There Was a Pig Went Out to Dig (1905, 1910, BFMS18) [2:03]
Shepherd’s Hey (1913) [2:06]
Shallow Brown (1910, SCS3) [6:12]
Lincolnshire Posy (1937, BFMS34) [15:43]
The Immovable Do (The Cyphering C) [4:49]
Handel in the Strand [4:14]
I’m Seventeen Come Sunday (1905, RMTB2) [3:02]
Blithe Bells (1930-1) [4:14]
Molly on the Shore (BFMS1) [4:06]
Mock Morris (RMTB1) [3:19]
English Dance (1899-1925) [9:01]
Joyful Company of Singers; BBC Philharmonic; City of London Sinfonia; Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra/Richard Hickox; Matthias Bamert; Timothy Reynish
rec. details not given: 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN2029 [77:11]
Experience Classicsonline

I was quite unaware of this excellent introduction to Percy Grainger until I received with the Chandos monthly e-Newsletter a free download of the companion Introduction to Vaughan Williams, the booklet for which advertises this recording. Contrary to the popular belief that there is no such thing as a free lunch, Chandos’s generosity in offering the VW download free, in this VW year, comes very close to it. If, as I hope, they are rewarded by increased sales of this companion recording – available as a CD and download from Chandos’s – they will have been justly rewarded.
The Grainger CD in turn advertises the Introduction to Elgar. None of these introductory CDs under-rates the potential listener by offering bleeding chunks though, of necessity, the Grainger consists mainly of short works. If you are just looking for the old favourites – only the final track, English Dance, is perhaps less than well known – very well performed and recorded, you need look no further.
The guiding hand of Richard Hickox and his fellow conductors more or less guarantees high quality and that is what we get. The cheerfulness is never overdone and the Irish Tune from County Derry (popularly known as the Londonderry Air) receives an affecting but not over-sentimental performance. This is far removed from the overdone renditions by the likes of Josef Locke that my father and grandfather revelled in.
The recordings are in Chandos’s best manner: bright but not over-bright. Despite having been made on several different occasions - and in several locations? - there is never any sense of having to adjust aurally between tracks.
Most of the parent CDs appeared before Musicweb was fully up and running, but one of our earliest reviews awarded CHAN9721 and CHAN9730 full marks – see review by IL.
It is to be hoped that purchasers will be inspired by this introduction to experiment further with Chandos’s excellent range of Percy Grainger recordings. There are only three vocal items here, but they are just enough to remind us that not all of his output was orchestral: the Chandos catalogue contains both vocal, chamber, instrumental solo and orchestral pieces. I’m just a little surprised that the booklet did not contain details of their catalogue numbers – that might have been more useful than the ad for the Elgar compilation. It might have seemed mercenary to advertise the other Grainger CDs, but it would have saved chasing them up on the Chandos website.
Most of the Grainger here is fun music – this is, after all, the work of the composer seen leaping around fey-like in the classic Ken Russell Delius film – but there is a serious side, too. Listen to his arrangement of Early one morning for the other side of the coin. Even the jolly music is well crafted – clearly, Grainger spent at least some of his time in more serious pursuits. You’ll see from the dates in the headings how often and over how long a period Grainger reworked his music – further details in the Chandos booklet. There is a strong case for placing his arrangements of British folk song on a par with those of Delius – and who else could have taken a tune from Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith and turned it into that jazzy and un-Handel-like piece Handel in the Strand? It takes the likeable cheek of a Mr Toad to do that.
The wind-band writing in the Lincolnshire Posy suite is fully the equal of Holst’s and Vaughan Williams’ and the performance by the Royal Northern College Wind Orchestra every bit as good as that on my favourite recording of the Holst and V-W (London Wind Orchestra/Denis Wick at budget price on ASV Resonance CDRSN3006).
For low-price introductions, the presentation of these CDs has not been skimped, apart from the lack of detail about where and exactly when the recordings were made. Both the Grainger and VW booklets contain helpful information – I hadn’t realised the full story behind the several versions of Country Gardens, for example – with catalogue numbers from the British Folk Music Society, etc., for Grainger and within attractive covers. Is the bicycle on the cover of the Grainger not a little too modern, though, with its plastic reflectors?
At this price, the only serious rival is Chandos’s own even cheaper but shorter 1978 collection from the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and Kenneth Montgomery on CHAN6542 (CD and mp3).

The Vaughan Williams CD (see review) is, if anything, even more enticing than the Grainger, containing as it does The Wasps Overture, the Greensleeves Fantasia, The Lark Ascending, that favourite of Classic FM listeners, and the Second Symphony, all in more than decent performances. I was particularly pleased to see Bryden Thomson’s version of the symphony reappear in this form; it may not be quite the equal of the Barbirolli version from which I first got to know the work on a Pye Golden Guinea LP or Chandos’s own Richard Hickox performance of the original version, but it is well worth hearing. I might have preferred the Tallis Fantasia to one of the shorter pieces – as a lover of Tallis, I’m fascinated by the perfect blending of the 16th and 20th centuries in this work – but I’m sure the Second was the right VW symphony to introduce to the beginner and the Thomson recording is one of the best from a variable series (CHAN2028).

The Elgar also offers full-length performances: Pomp and Circumstance No.1, the Cello Concerto (Ralph Kirshbaum), Chanson de Matin and the Enigma Variations, all but the Chanson conducted by Alexander Gibson. Again, these may not be quite out of the top drawer, though many will find the Cello Concerto more to their liking than the very deeply emotive du Pré/Barbirolli classic account – my wife, for one, who finds that du Pré moves her too deeply to bear (CHAN2021).

Brian Wilson


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