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Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Works for Large Chorus and Orchestra
King Solomon's Espousals (c. 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. 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 [72:39]

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 Grainger Edition was in 1996 and reached volume 19 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-Room Ballads. 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 of Odin. 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 sets traditional verse from A Collection of National English Airs compiled by 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 Antiqua 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 sweethearts” 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. 

Michael Cookson 

See also review by Ian Lace


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