Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Jungle Book and other songs
see end of review for track listing
Polyphony and Polyphony Orchestra/Stephen Layton
rec. January 1996, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Originally issued on Hyperion CDA66863

This is one of those magnificent discs which as a full price product predated MusicWeb International - or at least pre-dated 1998 when MWI began to review classical CDs on a large-scale. With the passage of time and the commercial reissue cycle becoming shorter we are now covering such lacunae as companies re-issue and usually at bargain price. That’s the case with this admirable disc. It takes its latest bow to mark the 50th anniversary of Grainger’s death in February 1961. Details of other celebratory events can be found at

My own Grainger journey began with Country Gardens and proceeded under the tutelage of BBC Radio 3. This was via a circa 1971 broadcast by Ashley Lawrence with the BBC Concert Orchestra tackling the wild Scotch Strathspey and Reel and the feral eruption of dance and battle that is The Warriors. In 1979 I heard a deeply impressive broadcast of Green Bushes by the ECO and Steuart Bedford. In September 1982 I caught a further Bedford broadcast of ten songs from The Jungle Book with Neil Jenkins (he of Lyrita Finzi songs fame) with the English Sinfonia and the BBC Northern Singers. After this a tape exchange with Mike Rostron gave me access to good FM quality cassettes of most of the BBC’s 1960s Grainger broadcasts including some no-holds-barred performances of the two piano works by Lisa Fuchsova and Paul Hamburger. This was consolidated by Thames Publishing’s first edition of The Grainger Companion edited by Lewis Foreman. The The New Grainger Companion as edited by Penelope Thwaites is now out from Boydell & Brewer - and very good it is too. I should briefly mention that Penelope Thwaites with John Lavender recorded the Grainger two piano music across four Pearl CDs (SHE-CD 9611, 9623, 9631) in the mid 1980s - all now deleted, more’s the pity. She can be heard in three discs of the music for piano solo on Chandos CHAN 9895, 9919 and 10205.

The present Hyperion disc comprises 14 short pieces and all eleven episodes that comprise the Jungle Book set. These works are for voice, either solo or full choral, all with various configurations of instrumental support. These ensembles are often richly specified. The sea shanty, Shallow Brown is heard here in its full panoply for harmonium, four guitars, two mandolas, two mandolins, two ukuleles, piccolo, three clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, two alto saxophones, horn, strings, piano, baritone and choir. Grainger was famous for the variety of versions of each of his pieces - some very simple - voice and piano and others more extravagant and with a peppering of ‘unconventional’ instruments including guitar, harp and baritone saxophone. The saxophones lend an abrasive grunt to the end of the Peora Hunt.

Grainger’s spiced and often deeply masculine settings encompass every step between Delian ecstasy and thuddingly rhythmic emphasis. The latter can be heard in The Hunting Song of the Seeonee Pack. Strange how his handling of the voices for me keeps making connection with Bantock’s choral invention in Omar Khayyam. His penchant for sentimentality can be heard in Goodbye to Love which sounds rather as if he might have heard Mahler’s Adagietto. Libby Crabtree’s clarion silver illuminates so many of these tracks including The Only Son, The sprig of Thyme (with the then unheard of James Gilchrist) and Died for Love. The latter’s simple string accompaniment recalls Warlock’s pristine medieval settings. The harmonium’s elderflower wheeze is also a hallmark of these settings and you can hear it making its discreet obeisance in The Power of Love sung inwardly by John Mark Ainsley. Melancholy and introspection is maintained by Ainsley in Willow Willow with violin, strings and harp. David Wilson-Johnson takes centre-stage for The Three Ravens with choir, a wind nonet and that signature harmonium. The running of Shindand is another Kipling setting this time for male voices a cappella. Grainger also made an arrangement of this piece for five cellos. The affecting Love Song of Har Dyal is for soprano (Libby Crabtree), strings, piano, harmonium, oboe and bassoon. This Eastern mood scena is subtly yet vividly coloured - night, the desert, the camels and the bazaar. The scoring for this version dates from 1958.

The generous notes are by Grainger expert Barry Peter Ould and include the sung texts alongside the commentary for each text.

To sum up: generous timing, discoveries, Delian gauzy harmonies, tangy instrumentation, sentimentality, aureate vocal light, succinct and touching settings. Match this with the other Hyperion Grainger Polyphony disc (CDH55236), the Britten/Grainger Decca brace now on Eloquence and a smattering of the Chandos Grainger Edition and you have the makings of a strong Grainger collection.

Rob Barnett 

Generous timing, discoveries, Delian gauzy harmonies, tangy instrumentation, sentimentality, aureate vocal light, succinct and touching settings. 

Shallow Brown [6:04]
David Wilson-Johnson (baritone)
Jungle Book
1: The fall of the stone [2:11]
2: Morning song in the jungle [2:50]
3: Night-song in the jungle [0:48]
4: The Inuit [2:17]
5: The beaches of Lukannon [3:23]
6: Red Dog [1:11]
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
7: The peora hunt [0:40]
8: Hunting-song of the Seeonee pack [1:19]
9: Tiger! Tiger! [1:19]
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
10: The only son [4:40]
Libby Crabtree (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
11: Mowgli's song against people [3:41]
David Wilson-Johnson (baritone), James Gilchrist (tenor)
Good-bye to love [3:54] arr. Alan Gibbs (b.1932)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
Died for love [1:24]
Libby Crabtree (soprano)
The power of love [4:53]
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
The Rival Brothers [1:03]
Six dukes went afishin' [2:19]
The sprig of thyme [2:35] arr. Dana Perna (b.1958)
Libby Crabtree (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor)
Willow, willow [3:57]
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
Recessional [3:58]
Lord Maxwell's goodnight [2:48] arr. David Tall (b.1941)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
The Three Ravens [4:02]
David Wilson-Johnson (baritone)
The running of shindand [1:41]
Early one morning [2:51] arr. David Tall (b.1941)
David Wilson-Johnson (baritone), Libby Crabtree (soprano)
The love song of Har Dyal [2:14]
Lesley Jane Rogers (soprano)
My love's in Germanie [3:57]
Libby Crabtree (soprano)