GRAINGER: The Power of Love (Keith Brion/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554263)
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The Power of Love
Percy Aldridge Grainger was a musician of unusual breadth and visionwhose interests encompassed Aboriginal to Zulu music by way of twelfth-centurypart-songs, Javanese gamelan orchestras, folk-song collecting from Britain,Scandinavia and the Pacific Islands and composers ranging from Bach and Dowlandto Duke Ellington, Gershwin and Richard Strauss. Born in Brighton, a suburb ofthe Australian city of Melbourne on 8th July, 1882, he was christened GeorgePercy Grainger and was brought up and tutored mainly by his mother Rose. At theage of ten he gave his first public recital. Three years later, he and hismother sailed for Europe where the young Grainger enrolled at the HochConservatorium in Frankfurt, Germany. From here mother and son travelled toEngland, and settled in London between 1901 and 1914. During this productiveperiod, Grainger's life as a concert pianist blossomed. In 1905 Graingerattended lectures given by Lucy Broadwood of the Folk-Song Society and thesespurred him into frenzied activity as a collector in his own right. His firstcompositions were experimental in nature, works for huge orchestras and unusualcombinations of instruments are to be found amongst these, but he subsequentlymodified his style in the popular British Folk-Music Settings and Room-MusicTit Bits. At the outbreak of World War I, Grainger and his mother left forAmerica where he settled until his death in 1961. The ever-green andever-popular Country Gardens (BFMS No.22) dates from Grainger's periodin the U.S. army in which he, in spite of his pacifist convictions, happilyenlisted as a bandsman. He improvised on the tune at a Liberty Loan pianorecital and its instant popularity when published, secured Grainger a never-endingflow of royalties. Inevitably it overshadowed his other works, which caused thecomposer much disquiet. The orchestral version recorded here was made by AdolfSchmidt.
Grainger's love of folk-song led him to Denmark, where, with the veteranDanish folklorist, Evald Tang Kristensen he collected material between 1922 and1927. From this, Grainger put together his Danish Folk-Song Suite. Thefour movements which make up this suite are The Power of Love, whichtells of a young girl whose clandestine lover is set upon by her sevenbrothers, all of whom he kills. Returning to the girl, he asks if she stillloves him, to which she answers: 'Even had you killed my old father as well, Iwould still follow you.' The second movement, Lord Peter's Stable-Boy isa sturdy dance-song which tells the story of Little Kirsten who dons maleattire because she wants to be a courtier at the Dane-King's castle. She asksfor employment as a stable-boy. The royal court is much taken aback when, nineyears later, this stable-boy gives birth to twins. The Nightingale and theTwo Sister, is based on two Danish folk-songs. The Nightingale is,in reality a maiden who has been bewitched by the spells of her wickedstepmother. A knight captures the nightingale who, in due course, manages tobreak the spell. The Two Sisters unfolds a dark story about the eldersister who pushes her younger sister into the water and lets her drown, becauseshe has fallen in love with the man to whom her younger sister is betrothed.
Two fiddlers find the corpse and make fiddle-string from her hair and duringtheir playing at the elder sister's wedding the fiddle-strings tell of themurder, and the murderess is then burnt alive. The final movement JutishMedley, is a succession of tunes collected in Jutland. These are Choosingthe Bride, which voices a lover's dilemma in choosing between twosweethearts, one rich, one poor; The Dragoon's Farewell, in which adragoon sings a heartfelt song before setting out for the wars; TheShoemaker from Jerusalem, a very archaic religious song and finally aquarrelling duet Hubby and Wifey, in which the wife brings herobstreperous husband to his senses by means of a spinning spindle skilfullyapplied to his head. At this point Grainger ingeniously combines with and repeatsthe opening tune of the medley.
Colonial Song (Sentimental No 1) is Grainger's attempt at writing asong in which he wished to express feelings aroused by thoughts of the sceneryand people of his native country, as Stephen Foster's songs are typical ofrural America Grainger endows his rich melody with a folk-song-like flexibilityadding counter?¡melodies, inner harmonies and a myriad of harmonic digressions.
Irish Tune from County Derry (BFMS No. 15) is a tune collected by Miss JaneRoss, of New Town, Limacady, Co. Derry and printed in The Petrie Collectionof the Ancient Music of Ireland. Grainger's original setting was forunaccompanied mixed chorus (1902). The string setting dates from 1913 and like CountryGardens, Grainger's arrangement of the melody widened its popularity.
Green Bushes is a passacaglia on an English folk-?¡songcollected in Somerset by Cecil Sharp. Originally scored for small orchestra in1905-06, the version recorded here is the 1921 re-scoring. With the exceptionof a momentary break, the Green Bushes tune is heard constantlythroughout the piece to which Grainger adds a multitude of originalcounter-melodies. The innovation of using folk-song in passacaglia form was afirst in British music and Grainger avers that this led Delius to write his BriggFair and Dance Rhapsodies in a similar manner.
Ye Banks and Braes0' Bonnie Doon (BFMSNo. 31) is a traditional Scottish tune originally called The CaledonianHunt's Delight, to which Robert Bums added words. In Grainger's original choralsetting, the score calls for whistlers. Here in the orchestral version thewhistling parts are played by high strings. Grainger's fondness for whistlingstems from his mother's Swedish masseur, Sigurd Fornander, a virtuoso of theart.
Shepherd's Hey! (BFMS No. 16) is Grainger's own orchestral setting ofan English Morris tune collected by Cecil Sharp and given to Grainger around 1908.
The tune is akin to the North English air The Keel Row and variants ofit are found throughout England. Grainger makes use of four variants of thetune to which he adds stylistically authentic counter-lines derived from themelody. The 'Hey' of the title refers to a particular type of dance-stepassociated with Morris dancing.
My Robin is to the Greenwood Gone (OBMP No. 2) is a development of a fragment ofthe old English tune (not a folk-song) from William Chappell's collection of OldEnglish Popular Music. Grainger's 'ramble' (as he called it) is anextension of the melody which he harmonizes with lush chromaticism. The other-?¡worldlinessof this piece has some affinities with the music of Delius. Grainger dedicatedthis arrangement to his friend, Roger Quilter with the Maori inscription: Mote hoa takatapui.
To a Nordic Princess (Bridal Song) is one of Grainger's more extended worksand its first performance took place at a concert in the Hollywood Bowl inAugust 1928. It was performed by the largest orchestra ever to have playedthere (126 players) and was conducted by the composer as the concluding item onthe programme, and as a prelude to his marriage to Ella Viola Strom, thededicatee of the piece. The brief wedding ceremony was witnessed by anestimated audience of between 15,000 and 20,000. In mood and type the piece isin effect a lengthy 'ramble', a much-loved form of Grainger's, and here thecomposer's love of Nordic expression is given full expression. The openi