Grainger: Folk Songs CD review – a beautiful celebration of a subversive composer | Classical music
Mmore than half a century after his death, Percy Grainger’s true stature as a composer remains elusive. For all that his own music has trampled on stylistic boundaries and cheerfully overthrown the conventions and proprieties of concert music, and despite the highly original textural imagination that it sometimes reveals, this utterly distinctive musical personality seems rarely have produced truly durable pieces. The quirks of Grainger’s private life—his close obsessive relationship with his mother, his lifelong interest in flogging, and his insistence on running between venues on his concert tours, among others—have often come under greater scrutiny. nearly any music he composed.
What is undisputed, however, is the importance of the contribution the Australian-born Grainger made to the English folk-song revival while based in Britain between 1901 and 1914, and sharing his time between his career as a concert pianist and that of folk-song collecting. After making arrangements of tunes he found in existing collections, he began to make inroads into the field itself – particularly in Lincolnshire, where he discovered even more material. He made a variety of arrangements of what he found, as well as inventing his own “folk tunes”; Benjamin Britten, who was not a folksong arranger, was a great admirer of what Grainger had achieved.
Soprano Claire Booth and pianist Christopher Glynn provide a beautifully planned celebration of this achievement. Some of Grainger’s solo piano arrangements punctuate the songs, and they end with a piano duet version of his most famous number, Country Gardens, in which Booth also gets the chance to showcase his piano skills. Arrangements range from simple transcriptions, which Booth sings with disarming purity, to ones in which Grainger takes the original song into territory of unexpected complexity. The Power of Love, which is based on a tune the composer heard in Norway, sets its only repeated verse in piano interludes of enormous, ravaged intensity, while Hard Hearted Barb’ra (H)Ellen, the the longest song in the collection, runs through 13 verses in which voice and piano regularly diverge. Booth and Glynn manage wonderfully the contrasts between simplicity and immense sophistication that all these songs regularly bring; it makes for a really engaging sequence.