Grainger 'Country Gardens' and other Piano Favourites

Composer, virtuoso pianist, inventor, avid collector of folk-song - Percy Aldridge Grainger remains one of the most underrated and misunderstood musical geniuses of the 20th century. In his lifetime he was known principally as an indefatigable concert pianist; since his death in 1961 (the date astonishes many people who think he died some time around the Second World War) his reputation has tended to rest on his brilliantly orchestrated arrangements of folk-tunes (Country Gardens & Shepherd’s Hey for instance) and Grainger’s stature as a composer in his own right has largely been ignored.



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"Martin Jones is a superb advocate for this rich kaleidoscope. His playing is delightfully exuberant and he is able to reach both the thunderous heights of power demanded by the Tchaikovsky concerto transcription and the delicacy of fingerwork required in folksongs such as 'Molly on the Shore'. He handles Grainger's complex counterpoints and voicing with superb clarity, achieving quasi-orchestral textures and colouring ..."

Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine

Martin Jones’s recordings of Percy Grainger have been gathered together into a 5-CD box set of the Complete Works, NI1767. This generous selection is not a reissue of a single CD from the set but a compendium of Grainger’s best-known works.
Just about all the likely suspects are included in the programme, together with several pieces that I would hardly have described as well-known: track 4 offers Grainger’s take on Dowland’s Now, O now, I needs must part. It’s in a style far removed from the madly dancing Percy Grainger and, though I hardly recognised Dowland’s original tune from Grainger’s treatment, he does retain the gravity and melancholy spirit of the original. Much the same is true of My Robin is to the Greenwood gone, the original tune is submerged in Grainger’s arrangement of what emerges as a fine piece in its own right. Nor is a folk tune such as Near Woodstock Town quite the same after Grainger’s treatment. Mock Morris on the following track makes no pretentions to be other than Grainger’s own take on folk music – it only sounds as if it were based on a folk tune. In many respects it’s more quintessentially Grainger than anything else and it’s brought off to perfection here.
The pop items are skilfully interwoven in the programme, starting with Handel in the Strand. Memories of George Malcolm playing this on the harpsichord are not erased but Martin Jones offers idiomatic and dextrous performances of the well-known and lesser-known works alike. Getting your fingers around the notes in a piece like the Stanford March-jig is only half the story; the other half, which Jones contrives beautifully, is summoning an image of Grainger himself dancing to it around Delius’s garden.
On the following track we’re on Irish territory again in very different mood for the Tune from County Derry (alias Danny Boy). Does Jones milk the sentiment here slightly too much in the manner of those Irish tenors such as Josef Locke whom my father and grandfather worshipped? I think so, but perhaps my great-grandfather’s Irish blood was simply running a little too thin by the time it reached my generation. On track 11 Grainger and Jones take on the opening of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto single-handed, and do so surprisingly effectively.
With first-class performances and excellent notes there’s a lot to be said in favour of this single-CD selection. Don’t blame me if it leads you to purchase the complete box!
Brian Wilson,

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