This self-proclaimed Introduction to Percy Grainger focuses in all but a few cases on arrangements of folk songs of the British Isles. One might miss some of the diversity of Grainger's output -- Free Music for Theremin, for instance -- but it was certainly music related to folk song for which Grainger was and remains best known. This compilation of 1990s recordings from the Chandos label, which has released a great deal of Grainger's music, offers an interesting and enjoyable selection of works illustrating the variety of approaches the composer took to his folk models. The booklet notes lay stress on Grainger's habit of arranging and rearranging works, to a point where they exist, in equally acceptable versions from among which performers could choose at will and occasionally even combine. The disc doesn't actually contain any examples of this in the form of multiple versions of the same song, but it does feature a nice variety of Grainger settings, from the multimovement Lincolnshire Posy for wind band, to a lush setting of Irish Tune from County Derry (the informative notes point out that it may have been Grainger who was primarily responsible for the tune's familiarity today as Danny Boy), to simpler short pieces. Most of the music is instrumental, but there are vocal versions (baritone Stephen Varcoe contributes a sad and affecting sea chantey, Shallow Brown), and one for choir (a lusty I'm Seventeen Come Sunday, known in more precocious America as I'll Be Sixteen Next Sunday, from the Joyful Company of Singers). The BBC Symphony, City of London Sinfonia, and Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra under their various conductors deliver clean performances sympathetic to Grainger's style, with a sensitive reading from Richard Hickox and the BBC Symphony of the more abstract The Immovable Do (The Cyphering C), which has a constant high C drone, and a version of Handel in the Strand from the same conductor with the City of London Sinfonia that captures just how subtle the seemingly naïve Grainger could be. We also learn from the notes that the latter work was originally entitled "Clog Dance" and was indicated by Grainger "to be played to, or without, clog dancing." Call in the cloggers, as David Letterman used to say! Chandos engineers do a good job fusing performances of diverse origin into a sonic whole. As long as it isn't allowed to serve as a conclusion, this is indeed a good introduction to the music of Percy Grainger.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Irish Tune from County Derry (Londonderry Air), folk song for 10 strings with 2 horns ad lib. (BFMS 15)
|Lincolnshire Posy, folk song suite for wind band (BFMS 34)|
Blithe Bells (Ramble on Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze"), for theater, small or massed orchestra (elastic scoring)