WORKS FOR CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA Volume IV
The major work in this programme (some twenty-minutes in duration), and probably
the best known is Grainger's Danish Folk-song Suite for orchestra.
Hickox and the Danish orchestra turn in a most captivating and exhilarating
performance. The work is based on a series of narrative folk songs, themselves
often taken from quite grisly fairy tales. The opening movement, 'The Power
of Love' begins with solo piano, eerie harmonium and then solo trumpet
proclaiming the melody over melancholy comments by the woodwinds and harp
ripples plus xylophone colourings. The strings then present the melody in
surging Romantic tradition. The second movement, 'Lord Peter's Stable-boy'
features the organ, piano and bells strongly and is a rollicking piece with
another strong melody. The ravishing third movement 'The Nightingale' and
'The Two Sisters' is quieter and more restrained. A lovely violin solo heightens
the mood of romantic melancholy. Immediately afterwards, a most hauntingly
beautiful horn chorale leads into heart-felt passionately intense music.
The final movement is called 'Jutish Medley' it is a wild extravaganza following
the pattern of the opening movement. It is an irresistible swaggering joyful
celebration with sweeping romantic melodies adding an appealing touch of
This album includes two premier recordings and three premier recordings in
the versions performed. The opening song 'Father and daughter', beginning
a capella, with the orchestra creeping in after a few bars, is buoyant
but rhythmically complex. Kleine Variationen-Form is a most impressive
little orchestral work and is a highly Sibelius-like evocation of a magic
winter journey. The chill and swirling snow stirred by gusts of wind is very
palpable. An appealing warmer melody, even though threatened by darker figures,
seems to promise a thaw. Grainger's lovely choral setting of the popular
Swedish folk tune, the romantic melody, 'A Song of Värmeland' follows.
To A Nordic Princess was performed immediately before the wedding
of Grainger to Ella Viola Ström. One can imagine the 15,000 to 20,000
audience, at the Hollywood Bowl, being bemused, enraptured or cringing with
embarrassment, according to their predilections, by this extraordinary orchestral
piece with its huge climactic peroration featuring bells, piano and organ
in extravagant late Romantic mode. In similar vein, the lovely lilting 'The
Merry Wedding' (Bridal Dance) was dedicated to Karen Holten; it is entirely
original not based on folk tunes and is an exuberant celebration of a country
wedding. The Danish choir's singing is particularly appealing and refined
in this number.
Stalt Vesselil (Proud Vesselil) in the version here for flute, cor
anglais and strings is a slighter melancholic reflective work full of regret.
The uncompleted song The Rival Brothers is a sturdy sea-story of rivalry
in love. 'Dalvisa' is another brief but attractive vocalise. The Crew
of the Long Serpent (Seascape) is immensely enjoyable. It has an extrovert
adventurous spirit as well as being vividly evocative of sea swells.
The programme is completed by 'Under a Bridge', a song originally intended
as a wedding-gift for Grainger's bride-to-be, Ella. It is about a courting
couple taunting each other (see review of Volume 12 below). This broader
version is most exotically orchestrated with xylophone, vibraphone and bells
etc. and Pamela Helen Stephen and Johan Reuter in strong voice as the determined
protagonists. The joyful climax as the woman traps her suiter into matrimony
is merry and jubilant indeed!
Another brilliant addition to this marvellous series
Volume 12 - SONGS FOR MEZZO
Those who were fortunate enough to attend the Percy Grainger weekend last
Autumn, in London's St John's Smith Square, will doubtless recognise not
only many of these songs, but also the artists who assembled there under
the enthusiastic and dedicated Grainger enthusiast Penelope Thwaites. This
twelfth album in the Chandos Grainger Edition is one of the best so far -
a complete joy from beginning to end - 31 memorable numbers. Of these, fifteen
are premiere recordings and a further thirteen are premier recordings in
the versions performed.
Della Jones is a splendid and practised interpreter of Grainger's songs.
She has impressive expressive powers and her voice has a most pleasing silken
timbre. Space forbids me to mention every one of the songs but I will cover
those that particularly impressed me.
The opening number is Grainger's affectionate harmonisation of the popular
traditional Welsh song, 'David of the White Rock'. Three lovely folk song
settings follow, all hauntingly poignant: 'Died for Love', 'The Sprig of
Thyme' and 'Willow, willow'. 'Near Woodstock Town' is a sentimental wordless
vocalise setting of another English folksong that offers Penelope Thwaites
the opportunity to contrast the predominantly serene accompaniment with some
disturbing ripples. She plays a dark accompaniment too to Grainger's version
of the popular 'Early One Morning' that emphasises the underlying tragedy
of lost love, while Della Jones follows the more traditional and lighter
vocal line. For the narrative folk song 'In Bristol Town,'
Della is accompanied by guitarist George Black, so giving a measure of historical
authenticity. Della Jones then sings four settings from Songs of the
North, which she relishes in sturdy interpretations in broad Scottish
dialect. These include the famous 'Skye Boat Song' and 'Weaving Song'. Two
more distinctive traditional Scottish folk tunes follow: 'The Bridegroom
Grat' and 'The Land O the Leal.'
Della Jones is joined by Stephen Varcoe in two very amusing Danish traditional
songs of sexual bickering: 'Under a Bridge' in which the two lovers taunt
each other until the woman triumphs (vociferously) when the man commits himself;
and 'Hubby and Wife' in which the wife gets the upper hand. How Della rubs
Mark Padmore joins to form a trio in the unusual 'The Lonely Desert-Man Sees
the Tents of the Happy Tribe' which forms the central section of The
Warriors. Using wordless syllables, Grainger achieves an appropriate
feeling of the desert - an eerie remote vastness. Padmore and Jones combine
again for the lovely sentimental 'Colonial Song.' Of the two settings of
Rudyard Kipling 'The Only Son' is based on the Jungle Books. 'The
Love Song of Har Dyal' comes from Plain Tales from the Hills.
Of the remaining songs in the collection, I would briefly mention the captivating
children's lullaby, 'Little Ole with his Umbrella'; a vocalise version of
Grainger's Handel in the Strand - 'Variations on Handel's 'The Harmonius
Blacksmith'; and the hauntingly sweet 'After-word' written by Grainger as
an expression of love for Karen Holen.
An outstanding release.