Percy Aldridge GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Piano Favourites
Handel in the Strand [2:46]
Bridal Lullaby [2:23]
Country Gardens [2:05]
DOWLAND Now, O now, I needs must part [4:37]
BACH ‘Blithe Bells’ [3:45]
In a Nutshell: The Gum-suckers March [3:43]
My Robin is to the Greenwood gone [4:51]
Molly on the Shore [3:07]
STANFORD Four Irish Dances: A March-jig [3:14]
Irish tune from County Derry [4:04]
TCHAIKOVSKY B flat minor Piano Concerto (opening) [3:27]
Richard STRAUSS Ramble on the last love-duet in der Rosenkavalier [8:10]
Colonial Song [6:34]
Shepherd’s Hey [2:04]
Near Woodstock Town [2;14]
Mock Morris [3:17]
Zanzibar Boat-song * [4:36]
Children’s March: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ * [7:06]
One more day my John (complex version) [1:56]
In Dahomey [4:06]
Martin Jones (piano)
* with Philip Martin and Richard McMahon (pianos)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouthshire, April and May 1989 and January 1991. DDD.
NIMBUS NI7703 [78:05]
Martin Jones’s recordings of Percy Grainger have been gathered together into a 5-CD box set of the Complete Works, NI1767, in which form they were reviewed by Jonathan Woolf in March 2011 – here – but we don’t seem to have reviewed this generous selection. It’s all that many potential listeners will want and I see that it’s advertised as available again. My copy of the CD dates from 1994. It’s not a reissue of a single CD from the set but a compendium of Grainger’s best-known works.
Let me deal with the least attractive part first: as Jonathan Woolf noted, the recording is not to everyone’s taste – it’s certainly too reverberant for my liking, but it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment too much. Subscribers to the Naxos Music Library might wish to try it there first – here – but give it a chance: after a few tracks you’ll hardly notice any problem.
Just about all the likely suspects are included in the programme, together with several pieces that I would hardly have described as well-known: track 4, for example, offers Grainger’s take on Dowland’s Now, O now, I needs must part. It’s in a style far removed from the madly dancing Percy Grainger that viewers of a certain age will retain from Ken Russell’s film about Delius – that’s Grainger, that was – and, though I hardly recognised Dowland’s original tune from Grainger’s treatment, he does retain the gravity and melancholy spirit of the original.
Much the same is true of My Robin is to the Greenwood gone (track 7) – the original tune is submerged in Grainger’s arrangement of what emerges as a fine piece in its own right. Nor is a folk tune such as Near Woodstock Town (track 15) quite the same after Grainger’s treatment. Mock Morris on the following track makes no pretentions to be other than Grainger’s own take on folk music – it only sounds as if it were based on a folk tune. In many respects it’s more quintessentially Grainger than anything else and it’s brought off to perfection here.
There are several arrangements here: the next track after Dowland (tr.5) contains Blithe Bells, Grainger’s arrangement of Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze), though, again, Bach’s original is almost lost in the latter part of the arrangement – it’s much more Grainger’s ‘own’ than Walton’s take on the same piece in The Wise Virgins. Other tracks contain arrangements of Stanford, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss – a characteristic Ramble on the final love-duet of Rosenkavalier.
The pop items are skilfully interwoven in the programme, starting with Handel in the Strand (track 1). Memories of George Malcolm playing this on the harpsichord are not erased but Martin Jones offers idiomatic and dextrous performances of the well-known and lesser-known works alike. Getting your fingers around the notes in a piece like the Stanford March-jig (track 9) is only half the story; the other half, which Jones contrives beautifully, is summoning an image of Grainger himself dancing to it around Delius’s garden.
On the following track we’re on Irish territory again in very different mood for the Tune from County Derry (alias Danny Boy). Does Jones milk the sentiment here slightly too much in the manner of those Irish tenors such as Josef Locke whom my father and grandfather worshipped? I think so, but perhaps my great-grandfather’s Irish blood was simply running a little too thin by the time it reached my generation. In any case, Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion is faster and less sentimental here (see below). John Pickard’s observation in the booklet that ‘Grainger’s music shares with Bach’s the fact that, no matter how slowly one plays it, it always sounds satisfying’ looks as if it might have been written in defence of Jones’s tempo for this piece.
On track 11 Grainger and Jones take on the opening of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto single-handed, and do so surprisingly effectively. No question of too slow a tempo here.
Only if you are likely to be put off by the recording should you need to look elsewhere. If you do, you are likely to find a 1996 recording by Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion your best choice – a very similar selection to that on Nimbus, on CDA66884 (CD or download in mp3 or lossless – here). If anything, Hamelin is even more fleet-fingered than Jones, but there’s not much to choose between them. If it’s the orchestral arrangements that you’re looking for, look no further than the inexpensive Introduction to Percy Grainger (Chandos CHAN2029: Bargain of the Month – see review), a sampler for their excellent complete series (see review), or another budget-price Chandos selection (CHAN6542, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Montgomery).
With first-class performances and excellent notes – not to mention availability at a keen price direct from MusicWeb International – here – there’s a lot to be said in favour of this single-CD selection. Don’t blame me if it leads you to purchase the complete box, or if the Chandos sampler tempts you to buy some of the recordings in that series.
Brian Wilson
An excellent sampler for the complete box set – all that many will need.