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Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Works for Large Chorus and Orchestra
King Solomon's Espousals (1920s?) [8:52]
Danny Deever (1903-4) [4:03]
Marching Song of Democracy (1901-17) [7:02]
The Wraith of Odin (1920s?) [5:10]
The Hunter in His Career (1929) [1:40]
Sir Eglamore (1904-12) [3:56]
The Lads of Wamphray (1904) [7:03]
The Bride's Tragedy (1908-9) [10:10]
Tribute to Foster (1914-31) [10:27]
Thanksgiving Song (1945) [13:22]
Andrew Morton (tenor); Alexander Knight (baritone); José Carbó (baritone); Jessica Aszodi (soprano); Victoria Lambourn (mezzo); Ben Namdarian (tenor); Timothy Reynolds (tenor); Nicholas Dinopoulos (bass-baritone)
Sydney Chamber Choir and
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. Hamer Hall, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 30 August-1 September 2012 (live: Danny Deever, Marching Song of Democracy, The Bride's Tragedy, Tribute to Foster), 3-5, 8 September 2012 (other works)
premiere recordings and premiere recordings in these versions
CHANDOS CHSA5121 [72.39]

Percy Grainger was certainly one of the most eccentric and individualistic composers ever. He preferred to plough his own furrow. Who else could have composed a piece with such a bizarre name as, Arrival Platform Humlet (In a Nutshell Suite - 1916). Nevertheless, Grainger had a strong streak of practicality in his make-up. Always one to maximise his potential income he would set and reset his compositions for any number and variety of instruments to optimise the number of their performances.
I had the great fortune to review much of Chandos’s 19-disc survey of the works of Percy Grainger (Grainger Edition) as they appeared through the 1990s, many conducted by the late Richard Hickox. It was therefore with great anticipation that I sought this new pendant Chandos release of mostly premiere recordings of more Grainger eccentricities - this time performed appropriately by Australian choruses and orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis.
The ten works that comprise this collection are all colourful and larger than life but it has to be said that some are more successful than others. The one piece that sticks in my mind, and worth the price of this album alone, is his joyous Tribute to Foster, considered by many to be one of his finest compositions. It was composed as a birthday gift to his mother who had sung Foster’s Camptown Races to him as an infant. This is an enthusiastic, affectionate tribute with Grainger treating the well-known tune very freely especially in the sentimental middle lullaby section and using some very colourful orchestrations including xylophone, bells and piano. We also hear some extraordinarily complex but effective and affecting choral writing.
King Solomon’s Espousals to biblical texts from ‘Song of Solomon’ opens the programme. It is an early work from an 18-year old Grainger who still had to find his voice. There are overt influences of Elgar and Parry in ceremonial dress here. Yet the Grainger individuality is present too. Closely related to this work in its ceremonial orchestral dress, is Grainger’s Marching Song of Destiny although the wordless chorus at times sounds rather at odds. It is supposed to suggest a breezy universalism, a spirit of optimistic humanitarian democracy but the occasional banalities deride any such objective. Nevertheless it’s an interesting exercise.
Much more interesting and effective is Danny Deever, Grainger’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s sombre view of a military execution from Barrack-Room Ballads. The choral part, in cockney vernacular, is well drawn, both darkly comic and sinister.
The Wraith of Odin with imaginative and challenging vocal writing, is a setting of Longfellow’s text from his The Saga of King Olaf that had previously preoccupied Elgar. This is about the spectral appearance of the ghost of Sir Morten of Fogelsang.
The very brief The Hunter in His Career is a rollicking hearty out-of-door tune. Its heartiness is continued in Sir Eglamore Grainger’s enthusiastic take on the heroics of a 14th century knight and dragon-slayer with the choir relishing their many “Fa, la, las lanky down dillys”. The Lads of Wamphray, from material by Sir Walter Scott, is a boast of masculine virility and fighting prowess, the male chorus battling with a well-nigh impenetrable Scottish dialect.
Swinburne’s The Bride’s Tragedy is more memorable. A hero snatches his sweetheart away from the man she is forced to marry. They are chased by the outraged usurped bridegroom and his followers as far as a swollen river where the hapless couple are swept away to oblivion. Grainger vividly depicts the chill winds that snatch at the fleeing couple and the swirling waters. The elegiac ending is particularly moving.
Grainger’s Thanksgiving Song that ends the programme has a wordless chorus. It was one of his last original large-scale compositions and was meant to be the final movement of a three-part work. It’s intent was to be a paean to womanhood “in praise of all my life’s sweethearts”, as he commented. It’s an affectionate romp with some odd touches including an insistent hopping rhythm as though some kangaroo is hopping across the score. This stops abruptly before the choir enters from “off-stage” as they will eventually leave. Their melody, when it appears, is simple, sincere and touching, endlessly repeated with subtle variations. Again, exotic orchestral colourings are used but sparingly.
Extrovert Grainger, writ large and in brilliant colours.
Ian Lace