Notes and Editorial Reviews
Salute to Percy Grainger
, Steuart Bedford
, John Eliot Gardiner
, cond; English CO;
Wandsworth Boys’ Ch;
Peter Pears (ten
); John Shirley-Quirk (bar
); Anna Reynolds (mez
); Viola Tunnard
, Benjamin Britten
, Percy Grainger
(pn); Osian Ellis (hp
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2205 (2 CDs: 117:52)
I’m 17 Come Sunday.
Bold William Taylor.
There Was a Pig Went Out to Dig.
My Robin Is to the Green Wood Gone.
Lord Maxwell’s Goodnight.
The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare.
Let’s Dance Gay in Green Meadow.
Scotch Strathspey and Reel.
The Pretty Maid Milkin’ Her Cow.
The Sprig of Thyme.
The Lost Lady Found.
Molly on the Shore.
Irish Tune from County Derry.
Under a Bridge.
Dollar and a Half a Day.
The Merry King.
6 Dukes Went A-fishin’.
The 3 Ravens.
Died for Love.
The Power of Love.
The Hunter in His Career.
When Percy Grainger died in 1961, he was already in eclipse. The
New York Times
obituary, has-beening him as “once a familiar sight on the American concert scene,” gave short shrift to his compositions, calling his style “conservative,” and emphasizing his most popular confections like
Country Gardens, Molly on the Shore
. At the time, few were likely to resist the
s assessment. Recordings were scarce—and except for one enterprising disc by Frederick Fennell, they did little to counteract his reputation as an outdated purveyor of faded pops trifles.
For many listeners, the 1969 LP
Salute to Percy Grainger
brought about a radical paradigm shift. Not only did it provide a greater sense of Grainger’s range, but coming with the imprimatur of Benjamin Britten, it also challenged the notion that Grainger was to be taken lightly. That LP was supplemented in 1978 with a second volume under the direction of Steuart Bedford (with Grainger’s own 1927 performance of
as a bonus); both records, filled out with John Eliot Gardiner’s 1994 recording of
, are included on this new double-set from Eloquence.
Now that we have around 20 volumes in the (stalled?) Chandos Grainger series, now that we have the complete
from Polyphony, now that we have exceptional Grainger recordings from Hamelin, Lane, Rattle, and Gardiner, special pleading is no longer necessary. Even apart from their historical importance, however, these recordings offer plenty to listeners. For starters, the collection offers tremendous variety, from the jokey (
) to the angry (
Dollar and a Half a Day
), from the stark (the voice and harp performance of the painful
) to the lush (the nearly Delian
), from the elegant (
) to the inebriated (
Scotch Strathspey and Reel
), from the proto-Minimalist (
) to the over-the-top extravagant (
). Then, too, the performances are first-rate. Granted, by the time Peter Pears reached his late-50s, his voice lacked the luminous purity needed for
Sprig of Thyme
(see Henry Fogel’s comments about his
, recorded at about the same time, in
32:5); and as is the case with many Grainger recordings, especially from England, the superficial polish of the performances sometimes diminishes the music’s roughneck spirit. But who could complain about Britten’s sympathetic treatment of the whimsical changes in color, texture, and especially articulation in
? Or about John Shirley-Quirk’s dark bitterness in
? Or about Bedford’s deft treatment of the weird, almost hallucinatory, intensity of
The Power of Love
? Or about the English Chamber Orchestra’s vitally pungent wind sonority in
The sound has held up well, and the release comes with notes (including an appreciation by Pears) and texts. Warmly recommended.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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