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Percy Grainger
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Preludes and Fugues BWV 531-552

Prelude (Fantasia) and Fugue in G minor BWV 542 (arr Liszt)
Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV 543 (arr Liszt)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 (arr Grainger)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)

Etude in B minor Op. 25 No. 10
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Funeral March Op. 35
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58
Percy Grainger (piano)
Recorded 1925-31
BIDDULPH LHW 010 [79.05]


This release enshrines performances of grandeur, imagination, often bewildering weaknesses but almost unlimited interest. The earliest performance dates from June 1925 and though the rather meagre notes (entirely biographical) make no mention of it the British issue of the Chopin B minor Sonata (Columbia L1695/97, in the USA 67158/60) was the first ever electrical release in the domestic L series. The sound is, amazingly, rather richer and fuller than in the companion B flat minor Sonata recorded three years later. If you start with Grainger’s Chopin I suggest you programme your player to track nine because this is by a long way the more convincing performance. Though there are, as elsewhere on the disc, wrong notes a-plenty, and a rather profligate approach generally, there is an immense sense of animation, exploration and fluency. His rubati are highly personalised as one would expect from a musician of his background but he vests drama and colour in the Allegro first movement and the little Scherzo is a fissure of theatre. In the Largo there is, despite the split chording, a sense of constant motion, of colour and of incident – also of a genuine sense of passion. Despite the attendant technical problems, some of which are simply subsumed into the flux of this theatre, the finale drives ever-onward full of clarity even at a relatively fast tempo and Graingerian exuberance.

The B flat Sonata is something of a disappointment after all these high spirits and power. Much of the opening movement is under too much pedal, the phrasing is strangely unvaried and plain, and the sense of disjunction pervasive. The Scherzo lurches, full of hesitations and unconvincing rubati, and whilst the Funeral March is better, with rolled and spread chords. The sonata as a whole is too indifferently performed to act as a coherent statement. The B minor Etude is much better – strong and sinewy. There is also the by no means little matter of the Bach-Liszt and Bach-Grainger, a trio of mighty and magnificent recordings dating from October 1931. The A minor is full of leonine power with stunning separation of voices and real Lisztian bravura. The Fantasia and Fugue in G minor also in the Liszt arrangement has grandiose monumentality and Grainger’s own arrangement of the D minor has an awesomely Olympian profile.

The transfers are splendidly quiet and full of presence and worthy of Grainger’s memorable playing.

Jonathan Woolf



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