Nimbus' Percy Grainger: Dished Up for Piano, Vol. 3, features pianist Martin Jones in 28 -- count 'em -- 28 of Grainger's folk song arrangements, likely all of Grainger's known contributions to this genre as set down for solo piano. The first aspect of this package that is immediately appealing is the excellent notes by John Pickard that move patiently through each arrangement, addressing the question of provenance (which can be a complicated issue in Grainger) and placing each work in context.
Although he transcribed folk music from all over the world, and not always for solo piano, the heart of Grainger's folk song collecting activity was concentrated in the British Isles in the early 1900s and in Denmark in the 1920s. Country Gardens, the piece by which Grainger's reputation was made despite the stubborn attribution of "Traditional" in most publications and recordings of the piece, was "loaned out" to Grainger through the work of Cecil Sharp, but nearly everything else represented here Grainger collected himself. If he had not done so, most of these tunes, nearly as old as the hills that Grainger loved, would have disappeared forever. Grainger's pianistic writing is all quite difficult, with extremely wide chords for the left hand and plenty of rapid-fire passagework, although in slower pieces such as My Robin is to the Greenwood Gone or Died for Love he demonstrates a sensitive side, replete with mildly jazzy harmonies reminiscent of Dave Brubeck. The thickness in Grainger's writing, usually a curse when applied to folk song settings, is a blessing in that his piano music is so texturally rich that the pieces, though short, seem much longer and more involved than they are. Take Molly on the Shore for example, of which the melodic line is so busy, and textures so rapidly changing, that when its three minutes are up you feel as though you've heard something more substantive and certainly longer than it is.
Martin Jones should receive some kind of prize just for getting through this material without having his hands fall off. It was recorded in the Nimbus Concert Hall at Wyastone Leys, a very live room indeed, so the recording may be a bit distant for some listeners. Overall, Percy Grainger: "Dished Up for Piano," Vol. 3, is amazing music combined with amazing playing in a more or less popular milieu. If you were only able to absorb one volume of Nimbus' Dished Up series, this would be the one to get.