Geoffrey Simon

Grainger: The Warriors

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Cala's Grainger: The Warriors restores to the catalog a collection available on CD twice before, but this time in the SACD format. This incarnation of Geoffrey Simon's 1989 Melbourne Symphony Orchestra recording is a vast improvement over previous issues; what was a distant muddle of brass in the older CD versions is exposed as a distinct instrumental group, playing far away, in Cala's SACD. The Melbourne Symphony was the first to record The Warriors in 1980, back in an era where Percy Grainger's innovative spirit as a composer was more speculated about than known. The Warriors in itself is like shock therapy in terms of indoctrination into Grainger's pioneering experimentalism; composed at the same time Charles Ives was also exploring such resources, The Warriors is an "imaginary ballet" scored for multiple instrumental groups, three pianos, and an extensive battery of both pitched and non-pitched percussion. There is a similar high-end audio recording of The Warriors by John Eliot Gardiner on Deutsche Grammophon, which pairs it with Gustav Holst's The Planets; Simon's program is all Grainger, containing several of the best orchestral works he left us. Hill Song No. 1, Grainger's own personal favorite among his compositions, is heard in its final, 1923 incarnation, and this was its first recording. Hill Song No. 1 is an amorphous, constantly shifting mass of folk-derived melody that expands and contracts like some sort of metaphysical squeezebox, and there was certainly nothing else like it on earth when Grainger first put it down on paper in 1901. The orchestral version of Hill Song No. 2, much shorter and more conventional in form, is likewise included for good measure.

Among the others, Grainger's Irish Tune from County Derry is heard in a 1920 orchestration that's a tad more bitter than the familiar one dished up for Stokowski in the late '40s. The Danish Folk Music Suite (1928), Peter Sculthorpe's arrangement of Beautiful Fresh Flower (1935), and Grainger's gorgeous setting of Colleen Dhas (1904) fill out the program.

Between 1989 and 2007, the situation with Grainger vis à vis recordings had gone from famine to feast, especially with the Grainger Edition on Chandos -- 18 volumes and counting -- dominating the landscape. Only Grainger's most devoted adherents will need that much of his music, and for a single-disc summary of Grainger's orchestral works, Cala's Grainger: The Warriors is a great option for first timers. Those coming to Geoffrey Simon's Grainger for a second time, whether in the wake of its original Australian ABC Classics issue or the later Koch one, will be surprised and delighted in the difference of the sound.

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