The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Vincent Plush

Percy Grainger: Com­plete Mu­sic for Four Hands, Two Pi­anos Pene­lope Th­waites, John Laven­der, Ti­mothy Young Her­itage Just when you thought there couldn’t be more mu­sic in Grainger’s closet left to record, along comes this ex­tra­or­di­nary set of the com­plete mu­sic (it claims, op­ti­misti­cally) for two pi­anos or piano four-hands: three pi­anists, four al­bums, 60 works, 39 first record­ings, 290 min­utes of mu­sic. Grainger’s inex­haustible in­dus­try for the key­board, as pi­anist and com­poser, is well doc­u­mented and laid out here in metic­u­lous notes by Pene­lope Th­waites, high priest­ess of the uni­ver­sal or­der of Grainger-rangers, in au­then­tic edi­tions lov­ingly pre­pared by Barry Peter Ould, the prince of bardic edi­tion and the Grainger es­tate. So this en­ter­prise is im­pres­sive for its au­then­tic­ity, if not its fi­nal­ity: not just unadul­ter­ated Grainger, but also Grainger ver­sions of me­dieval mu­sic, El­iz­a­bethan vir­ginal mu­sic, Palest­rina, Bach and many of his favourite com­poser chums — Bal­four Gar­diner, Cyril Scott, Delius and Gersh­win, even a ver­sion of Ad­din­sell’s War­saw Con­certo.

It is rev­e­la­tory to hear some of Grainger’s bet­ter-known pieces, multi-move­ment works such as Lin­colnshire Posy, In a Nut­shell and the var­i­ous folk-mu­sic set­tings in their bare frames, with­out Percy’s sump­tu­ous or­ches­tral wardrobe. Equally, it is sur­pris­ing to hear mu­sic whose ti­tles are known mainly in printed cat­a­logues. The piano voic­ing el­e­vates Grainger’s rep­u­ta­tion as a con­tra­pun­tist, fol­low­ing in the lines of Bach and the baroque masters, whose mu­sic he adored. Some of the Youth­ful Tone-Works — such as the rol­lick­ing seas­cape The Crew of the Long Dragon (1908) — point to more ma­ture and ex­panded struc­tures. The lis­tener can tire of a suc­ces­sion of short pieces, each rarely more than five min­utes. For­tu­nately, there are sev­eral works here — the ram­bling Hill Song No 1, the af­fect­ing ar­range­ment of Delius’s Song of the High Hills and a few oth­ers — that give the lie to the no­tion of Grainger as a minia­tur­ist. It is a de­light to hear a truly pre­scient work, the Pas­toral third move­ment from In a Nut­shell (1915), all nine min­utes of it, which points di­rectly to Ives and the Amer­i­can ex­per­i­men­tal tra­di­tion where Grainger truly be­longed.

The first three al­bums were recorded by Th­waites and John Laven­der in Lon­don (1989-91), whereas the fourth vol­ume was recorded by Th­waites and res­i­dent Mel­bourne pi­anist Ti­mothy Young in the Mel­bourne Recital Hall early this year.

The dif­fer­ence in the age of record­ings is barely dis­cernible, but the clar­ity of the Mel­bourne pi­anos is ap­par­ent. Oth­er­wise, it is hardly pos­si­bly to fault this his­toric set of record­ings, an­other milestone in the legacy of Grainger whose com­plete mu­sic has had to be recorded be­yond our shores (the Naxos series of 24 discs, and now these four al­bums on Her­itage). Surely it’s time for Aus­tralia to step up to the crease. Where are our own mu­si­cians and record­ing com­pa­nies?

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