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Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Wind Band Music (complete) - Volume 1
Marius Roth Christensen (tenor) (Bell Piece)
Lt Cdr Bjřrn Bogetvedt (euphonium) (Fauré)
Royal Norwegian Navy Band/Bjarte Engeset
rec. 2014-16, Torpedoverkstedet, Karljohansvern Horten, Norway

Wind Band Music (complete) - Volume 2
Joachim Carr (piano) (Merry; Liszt)
Hans Knut Sveen (organ) (Irish Tune - second version)
Royal Norwegian Navy Band/Bjarte Engeset
rec. 2014-16, Torpedoverkstedet, Karljohansvern Horten, Norway

Wind Band Music (complete) - Volume 3
Hans Knut Sveen (organ)
Royal Norwegian Navy Band/Bjarte Engeset
rec. 2014-16, Torpedoverkstedet, Karljohansvern Horten, Norway

When it comes to Percy Grainger's music Chandos have tenure. Their Grainger Edition, which runs to nineteen CDs and which systematically ploughs seven genres, including wind band, is enough to make most other labels look elsewhere. Neither have Chandos stopped there for they have added to their Grainger shelf with a collection of works for large chorus and orchestra on SACD CHSA5121 and a third windband volume CHAN10455 to place alongside the two CDs in the 19-CD set.

So, what do Naxos bring to the lists? Firstly they have issued, individually, three volumes under the aegis of this snappy elite outfit, the Royal Norwegian Navy Band conducted by the cheery Bjarte Engeset. This is a conductor who has also channelled Grieg, Irgens-Jensen and Tveitt for Naxos. Compare this with two windband volumes in Chandos' Grainger Edition box courtesy of the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra conducted by Timothy Reynish and Clark Rundell. The third Chandos is only available separately and at full price. Naxos may also have the edge because their three discs can be purchased separately rather than as part of an admittedly hugely satisfying multi-CD Chandos box. Engeset provides an approachable, scholarly and work-specific set of notes for each disc. The project's identity is in part marked out by adhering faithfully to the composer's instrument-specification; not that Chandos do anything else. Differences can usually be put down to Grainger's pragmatism and so-called 'elastic scoring' choices. This extends to the use by Engeset, where prescribed, of "Hammond organ, tin whistles, Swiss hand bells, bass saxophone and steel marimbaphone."

Grainger, self-taught in a wide array of wind instruments, spent two years from 1914 as a US Army bandsman based at Fort Hamilton. There are photographs of him in uniform cradling a saxophone from a sling around his neck. A later and final move to White Plains, also in the USA, marked the composition of various works for the American Band Masters Association and for the Goldman Band; the latter a band formed by composer-conductor Edwin Franko Goldman. Of the windband Grainger wrote: ‘As a vehicle of deeply emotional expression it seems to me unrivalled.’ He also considered the medium to be best suited for transcription of early music and superior in that respect to the symphony orchestra. Among the windband works there are 23 transcriptions of early (and some later) music under the ever so slightly queasy title of "Chosen Gems for Winds". He used these as a vehicle for his teaching activities at Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan (1937–44). The following commentary picks and chooses amongst the tracks on each of the three discs.

From the first volume I would single out the noble yet dissident-toned Marching Song of Democracy. It carries unmistakably Ivesian echoes of The Warriors; I am surprised that master work does not exist in a version for windband. The slow dignity and steadily accelerating Let's Dance Gay in Green Meadow eventually flies along with punctuation provided by ffff impacts from the bass drum and some surprising (to me) cross-echoes of Stravinsky. The Hill Song No. 2 is warblingly complex in texture and its ideas interweave tweedily. Goossens' Folk-Tune (review ~ review) warms the cockles undemonstratively. Shepherd's Hey sounds so much like Balfour Gardiner's Shepherd Fennel's Dance yet also makes a linkage with one of Grainger's more complex orchestral works, Green Bushes. Katherine Parker was the wife of the baritone Hubert Eisdell and wrote Down Longford Way for solo piano in 1928 (review ~ review ~ review). Grainger saw its silk and suede potential. For windband it emerges as an essay in healing and calm. Much the same applies to the Fauré Tuscan Serenade. The longest track here at 12:30 is Grainger's transcription of Franck's organ Chorale No. 2. Grainger pays respect and fidelity to the original so there are no wild cards. It shows that Stokowski learnt some of his transcribing art from Grainger or vice versa.

Engeset delivers a buoyantly jolly Gumsuckers March to open Volume 2 and follows this up with one of Grainger's opposites: a warblingly sentimental Irish Tune from County Derry - the first of two versions on this disc. The Colonial Song makes a fit companion to the Irish Tune as does Blithe Bells. The second version of Irish Tune, with a prominent role for organ, has a little more presence than the first version. The Merry King is placid almost to the point of somnolent. The rum-ti-tum catchiness, piano decoration and woodwind whoops of Children's March makes a good contrast with the orchestral version as conducted by Boult on Lyrita. Engeset gives it a decent infusion of rowdiness. Grainger must have done more than cosmetic surgery on the C.P.E. Bach march because it sounds more 20th century than I had expected. Cellist Herman Sandby's Intermezzo is a ruminatory souvenir of a long friendship with this Danish composer who is also remembered in Grainger's dedication of the third movement of Power of Love. A shame that only the Fourth of Sandby's five symphonies has been recorded and that in an archival version; nothing even from Dacapo. The final track is Grainger's working over of the showily tempestuous and rhetorically emphatic 16-minute Liszt Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Themes. It's a pity that no recording was made of Grainger playing this on the piano

The third and final disc announces itself with The Lads of Wamphray March. This, we are told, was Grainger’s first large work for wind band. Parts of it recall Bax's First Northern Ballad. Then comes The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart; such a title. One of his last compositions for wind orchestra, it was commissioned for the 70th birthday of Edwin Goldman and dates from 1947. Grainger began work on it in 1918 and by 1943 had finished it as a work for full symphony orchestra and organ. The instrumentation adopted here is tangy with parts notated for harps, pianos, ‘tuneful percussion’ and ‘pipe or electric organ’. For the latter he had in mind a Hammond organ using plenty of vibrato. A ‘churchy’ impression was definitely not what was intended. The Nightingale and The Two Sisters may be a placid (yet darkening piece) but the poem on which it is based tells how "the elder sister (dark as earth) … drowns her younger sister (fair as sun) because she wants the young man to whom the younger sister is betrothed." A grimly inward Prelude in the Dorian Mode (Antonio de Cabezón) is one of the series entitled Chosen Gems for Winds and this arrangement dates from 1937–1941. A Lincolnshire Posy is a delightful folksong suite which pounces, serenades, hymns, struts imposingly and shouts joy in the finale. The latter is The Lost Lady Found which is done by Engeset with punchy staccato impact. Hill-Song No. 1 ends the disc with a work which the composer considered "by far the best of all my compositions." Three times as long as Hill Song No. 2, it has its moments evocative of muscular hiking high up in the hills (like the famous buoyant marching theme in Havergal Brian's Gothic) but more often slowly builds itself to unwind over long stretches. The score reaches points of expression - viewpoints from which mountain vistas can be glimpsed and mulled over rather than ecstatically shouted.

The Naxos engineers retained here adopt a naturally distanced recording perspective across all three volumes. This feels right even if the level of detail registers with less audio adrenaline than with Chandos. The results from these Naxos discs are exciting and moving in equal measure.

Rob Barnett


Volume 1
Molly on the Shore (version for wind ensemble) [3:39]
Bell Piece (ramble on J. Dowland's Now, O now I needs must part) (version for voice and wind ensemble) [5:41]
Marching Song of Democracy (version for wind ensemble) [6:52]
Bach - O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross (arr. K. Brion and M. Brand for wind ensemble and mallet instruments) [4:10]
Let's Dance Gay in Green Meadow, "Faeroe Island Dance" (version for wind ensemble) [2:27]
Country Gardens (2nd version) (version for wind ensemble) [1:58]
Lawes - 6-Part Fantasy and Air No. 1 (version for wind ensemble) [6:52]
Hill-Song No. 2 (version for wind ensemble) [5:04]
Goossens - Folk-Tune (Op. 38, No. 1) [2:43]
Shepherd's Hey (version for wind ensemble) [2:04]
Room - Music Tit-Bits: No. 3. Walking Tune (version for wind ensemble) [3:50]
Spoon River (arr. W.S. Carson and A. Naylor for wind ensemble) [4:06]
Parker - Four Musical Sketches: No. 2. Down Longford Way (version for wind ensemble) [2:16]
Fauré - Sérénade toscane [2:48]
Franck - Chorale No. 2 (M. 39) [12:30]

Volume 2
In a Nutshell: IV. Gum-Suckers' March (version for wind ensemble) [3:37]
Irish Tune from County Derry (version for wind ensemble) [4:12]
The Merry King (version for wind ensemble) [4:00]
Children's March, "Over the Hills and Far Away" (version for wind ensemble) [6:39]
Colonial Song, "Up-Country Song" (version for wind ensemble) [6:19]
Chosen Gems for Winds: C.P.E. Bach - March in D Major, H. 1 (BWV Anh. 122) (version for wind ensemble) [1:36]
Blithe Bells (after J.S. Bach's Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208: Schafe können sicher weiden, wo ein guter Hirte wacht for wind ensemble) [4:06]
Chosen Gems for Winds: J.S. Bach - Ich bin ein guter Hirt, BWV 85: Seht, was die Liebe tut (See What His Love Can Do) [3:18]
Chosen Gems for Winds: Josquin des Prez - La Bernardina (version for wind ensemble) [1:18]
Chosen Gems for Winds: Alfonso Ferrabosco II - 4-Note Pavan (version for wind ensemble) [3:20]
Intermezzo (arr. P. Grainger for wind ensemble) [4:35]
Irish Tune from County Derry (2nd version for wind ensemble, "County Derry Air") [5:06]
Liszt - Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Themes, S123/R458, "Hungarian Fantasy" [15:41]
Volume 3
The Lads of Wamphray March [7:35]
Chosen Gems for Winds: Angelus ad Virginem [2:02]
The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart (live) [12:09]
The Nightingale and the Two Sisters (version for wind ensemble) [4:35]
The Immovable Do (version for wind band) [4:15]
Prelude in the Dorian Mode (after A. de Cabezón) (arr. P. Grainger) [4:22]
Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon (live) [2:40]
A Lincolnshire Posy [16:22]
Ballade No. 17 (after G. Machaut) [2:20]
Five-Part Fantasy No. 15 (after J. Jenkins) (version for wind ensemble) [3:41]
Hill-Song No. 1 [12:42]



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