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Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Handel in the Strand, Clog Dance [4:38]
Molly on the Shore, an Irish Reel [4:45]
Shepherd’s Hey [2:23]
Harvest Hymn [2:23]
Country Gardens [2:26]
Song from the Faroe Islands, Let’s Dance Gay in Green Meadow [2:31]
Spoon River [4:25]
As Sally Sat A-Weeping [1:07]
Lincolnshire Posy [17:01]
Fantasy on George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess [20:57]
Caroline Weichert and Clemens Rave (piano four-hands: Harvest Hymn, Country Gardens, Faroe Song), (two pianos: other tracks)
rec. 6-7 January 2011 (all but Gershwin fantasy) and 11 January 2012, Pianohaus Micke, Münster, Germany
GRAND PIANO GP633 [62:30]

Passing an hour in the company of Percy Grainger’s music is always a delight. The Bilder Duo offer a program of some of his most popular works in versions for piano four-hands and for two pianos: Shepherd’s Hey, Country Gardens, Lincolnshire Posy. The folk tunes, the homages to Grieg, the wit and whimsy and unexpected emotional import, are all here in strength.
As a ‘greatest hits’ album of Grainger for two pianists, this stands alone. Some works appear here in their original forms, before more famous orchestral versions, while others are Grainger’s own re-workings. Lincolnshire Posy, for instance, appears here in a version Grainger concocted immediately after it was originally written for wind band. The booklet is rather spotty on most of the works’ histories, listing dates of composition and “reworking” but not always telling you what tune was originally composed for what instrumentation.
The biggest piece on the program, and my own favorite, is the Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, a twenty-minute-long epic that makes essential listening for lovers of either Grainger or Gershwin. It rearranges bits of the opera to make the resulting piano piece a satisfying stand-alone work rather than a piano retelling of the story, which is really a good thing. “Summertime” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” are saved for climactic appearances near the end. “It Ain’t Necessarily So” shows off the two-piano medium when the main theme is exchanged between the players. It’s a fantastic piece, comparable in excellence to Earl Wild’s one-piano Grand Fantasy on the opera and George Gershwin’s own orchestral suite, Catfish Row.
The Bilder Duo, pianists Caroline Weichert and Clemens Rave, are frankly impeccable in this repertoire, technically spot-on and a lot of fun for the ears. They’ve been a duo since 2007, and they clearly enjoy this music. The acoustic is one of the better-sounding spaces recorded so far by the Grand Piano record label; at first it sounds a little dry and constricted but after a few minutes I forgot my complaint, and the Gershwin fantasy builds up very impressively. So it all comes down to how you like your Grainger: if you like it on keyboards, run out and grab this. Even those works represented here which have been recorded before, in these arrangements at least, aren’t available in such a convenient one-stop anthology. I’m very glad to have this CD.
Brian Reinhart