Percy Grainger was one of the principal architects of the symphonic wind orchestra in modern times, and Chandos' Grainger: Transcriptions for Wind Orchestra is a survey of much of the arrangements Grainger made for wind groups from non-original sources. While the sources may have been non-original, Grainger's totally transformative approach to these musical texts certainly qualifies these efforts as "original"; they reflect Grainger's own personality and taste rather than those of the source works and composers. Of the 14 works in the program, eight have never been recorded; many belong to a series published by Schirmer under the rubric of "Chosen Gems for Winds" and first heard at the Interlochen Summer Camp in Michigan, where Grainger taught from 1937 to 1944. Clark Rundell and the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra perform this music with precision and a clean, secure tone quality, though not with an overabundant amount of spirit, in this Chandos recording.
Many of the pieces Grainger worked from betray his interest in very old music; perhaps strangest of all is his arrangement of Ballade No. 17 by Guillaume de Machaut, better known in its original form as "Sans Cuer m'en vois," here played in only one of several possibilities that Grainger mapped out as possible realizations of the piece. Some of these works fall under Grainger's designation of "elastic scoring," where a basic musical text is provided and numerous options for realization given in terms of instrumentation. There is a very late arrangement, for piano and band, of Franz Liszt's Hungarian Fantasy, an amusing recasting of Fauré's early Tuscan Serenade, and a ravishingly beautiful retread of Johann Sebastian Bach's aria "Seht, was die Liebe tut." It is similar in approach to "Blithe Bells," Grainger's rewrite on Bach's aria "Was mir behagt" from the Hunt Cantata for what he called tuneful percussion; while it has a lovely sound, any resemblance to Bach is purely coincidental.
One really wishes the Royal Northern could inject a little verve into these sterile performances; certainly with the kids at Interlochen the tone would have been less absolute, but enthusiasm and a sense of occasion would have taken hold to make this music captivating. However, with so many of these things never recorded before, to those who are interested in hearing Grainger's lesser-known works for band, this remains a viable option.