Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Works for Large Chorus and Orchestra
King Solomon's Espousals
(c. 1920s) [8:52]
Marching Song of Democracy
The Wraith of Odin
The Hunter in His Career
The Lads of Wamphray
The Bride's Tragedy
Tribute to Foster
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. 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). Hamer Hall, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, Australia
CHANDOS CHSA 5121
Percy Grainger besides being an inveterate arranger and one of the
most original composers of the twentieth century was a lot more besides.
A true eccentric, the mould was certainly broken when he died. Frequently
outrageous, Grainger comes across as strongly self-willed, often obsessive
and compulsive. Seemingly he was never bothered by the opinions of
others, with the exception of his mother. I remain fascinated by what
comes across as his need for making multiple arrangements of his own
works, a great number of which were strongly influenced by or taken
from folk-songs. We have a large debt of thanks to Chandos and the
Percy Grainger Society for their huge contribution to the resurgence
of interest. The first release in the landmark Chandos
was in 1996 and reached volume
in 2002. Another Chandos/Grainger disc Transcriptions
for Wind Orchestra
came out in 2008. This latest offering
consists of Works for Large Chorus and Orchestra
. Five of the
works are première recordings with an additional two premières
of the particular version being performed.
King Solomon’s Espousals
is from the 1920s. It’s
a setting of Biblical texts from Douay’s translation of the
Old TestamentSong of Solomon
. Grainger specifies a chorus and
a massive orchestra that includes thirty-two wind instruments. Unusually
for Grainger there is a sacred feel to the proceedings.
From 1903/04 comes Danny Deever
, a setting taken from Rudyard
Kipling’s martial songs and poems:Barrack
The disturbing text is concerned with the execution of Danny Deever
for the murder of a fellow soldier. This is one of the few occasions
on this disc that the choir’s clear diction makes their Australian
accents particularly noticeable. Baritone José Carbó
is in excellent voice. I was fascinated by the way the piece ends
suddenly with an orchestral flourish.
Work on the Marching Song of Democracy
was undertaken on from
1901 with the scoring completed in 1917. The spark came from seeing
a statue of George Washington whilst in Paris for the Exhibition of
1900. The vocal parts are for wordless chorus. This weighty score
achieves a consistent tension. It requires and receives a wonderful
interplay of voices and ends on a highly dramatic note.
Originally Grainger planned to write a complete setting of Longfellow’s
poem The Saga of King Olaf
- the same work set by Elgar - but
by the end of the 1920s he had only managed to write The Wraith
. There is some tender singing at the heart of the score.
Towards the conclusion the music increases in weight. It ends abruptly.
At less than two minutes The Hunter in His Career
verse from A Collection of National English Airs
William Chappell. I was particularly struck here by the clarity of
diction from the mixed choir.
I loved Grainger’s Sir Eglamore
(1904/12) - another short
work at under four minutes. Here he uses a tune and text from Musica
in the 1812 compilation by John Stafford Smith. The story
is of the courageous Knight Sir Eglamore
. It is heard in the
revised 1912 orchestration and opens with an impressive brass fanfare.
This lusty score gradually increases in musical weight and impact.
It is appealing and immediately memorable.
From 1904 The Lads of Wamphray
is a setting from Minstrelsy
of the Scottish Borders
by Sir Walter Scott. The hearty and spirited
contributions from tenor Andrew Morton and baritone Alexander Knight
are mightily impressive. High drama is generated in the final two
verses. This is terrifically enjoyable; one of highlights of the disc.
Grainger’s use of A.C. Swinburne’s The Bride's Tragedy
from 1908/09 is considered by Barry Peter Ould to be “one of
Grainger’s most intensely personal works”. The tragic
and moving two-part setting uses a lengthy text from the narrative
poem. A reluctant young bride on her wedding day is snatched by her
lover at the church entrance and the two ride away on horseback. The
lovers drown after being chased into flooded river by the jilted bridegroom
and her family. After the première in 1922 Grainger came to
consider the piece as a requiem to the memory of his late mother who
had then recently committed suicide. It’s typical of Grainger
that he revels in an exciting climax that works so splendidly well.
Grainger always recalled being rocked to sleep by his mother while
she sang Stephen Foster’s Campdown Races
. This cemented
a close and life-long affection for Foster’s music. He intended
his Tribute to Foster
as a birthday gift in 1914 for his mother
and used his own words as well as Foster’s. The impressive final
scoring contains some of Grainger’s most interesting material.
Two additional conductors are specified each directing his (or her)
own off-stage ensembles. The piece was not completed until 1931.
The longest and final work here is the appealing Thanksgiving Song
from 1945. It is the closing movement from a projected three movement
score. Here Grainger is honouring what he described as “life’s
” and I suppose his love of womankind in general.
Cast in two sections the delightful opening orchestral introduction
is quite glorious played. In between the two sections the conductor
observes a twelve second pause to allow players the time to go off-stage
and join some choir members already there. This was a device Grainger
liked to deploy from time to time. Commencing at 5:24 the second section
uses a choir who make a quiet wordless entrance gradually increasing
in weight and impact. Towards the conclusion the sound of the performers
in the distance gradually seems to move further and further away.
For this Chandos SACD I used my standard player. Recorded at live
concerts and in studio conditions at the Hamer Hall, The Arts Centre,
Melbourne the sound engineers have done a splendid job managing the
inherent difficulties presented by the large choral and orchestral
forces. The booklet essay prepared by renowned Grainger expert Barry
Peter Ould is impeccable and especially informative. Congratulations
are in order to Chandos for providing full texts. In truth, after
a while, I found the lack of variety in these works rather wearing
to hear at a single sitting. It’s a shame that a handful of
orchestral scores could not have been interspersed. Davis conducts
his impressive massed choral and orchestral forces with typical assurance.
He decisively conveys both power and fine detail. This is a highly
enjoyable disc. Time will tell which of these works will stand repeated
hearing. Grainger enthusiasts will be in their element.
See also review by Ian