Music for Band by Percy Grainger. Jerry Junkin, Dallas Wind Symphony. Reference Recordings RR-117.
Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was an Australian pianist and composer who specialized in collecting and arranging British folk songs largely for band ensembles, integrating many of these songs into his music. Interesting, and as an aside, he also championed an electronic instrument for what he called "free music," emphasizing microtones, "gliding tones," and "free" irregular rhythms, in which he attempted to imitate in sound the swaying of trees, the currents of the sea, and the singing of birds. So Grainger was an innovator from way back. On this disc, however, we get over a dozen of his more popular, more conventional works arranged for wind band, some arranged by him and some arranged by others.
For years I've been listening to Grainger's tunes via the old Frederick Fennell Mercury recordings of the late Fifties and Sir Vivian Dunn's EMI recordings of the early Seventies. Both of those conductors lead small, traditional orchestras, though, not a wind and percussion group as Reference recorded here with the Dallas Wind Symphony. Therefore, these wind arrangements, of which Grainger thoroughly approved, were a bit different for me, if not unusual for the composer. Invigorating playing and bracing performances make them of interest to anyone with a fondness for Grainger's music.
However, I have to admit that for me a little of Grainger goes a long way, no matter how well it's played. Fortunately, this disc contains enough variety to ward off some of the tedium that can set in when I hear too much of the same. Things begin with "The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare," which is a relatively solemn piece and a bit uncharacteristic of the composer. Following that is one of Grainger's more-familiar works, the "Lincolnshire Posy," which lends its name to the album. It's a suite of six tunes varying from brisk to sedate to merry. Ironically, "The Merry King" that follows is anything but merry, being as Grainger wanted it played "flowingly, somewhat waywardly." Then we get a succession of highly popular Grainger pieces like "Mock Morris," "Molly on the Shore," "Lads of Wamphray," "Irish Tune from County Derry" (think "Danny Boy"), and "Shepherd's Hey." In between, there are other pieces, including a lovely tune for wordless chorus called "After-Word."
Surprisingly missing from the collection is "Country Gardens," probably Grainger's single most-popular work of all, but it's possible the band and its leader, Jerry Junkin, felt the song was already over exposed. After all, I'm sure there must be a wind arrangement of it somewhere.
Reference Recordings capture the sound of the wind band with a fairly heavy acoustic bloom that in all likelihood replicates the group as they actually sounded in a moderately resonant hall like Mererson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas, where they recorded in 2008. Dynamics are wide, bass is deep, and transient impact is strong. Still, the natural hall reverberation doesn't always allow for the fullest transparency. In all, while Lincolnshire Posy is an intriguing album, I can't say it supplants the two discs I mentioned earlier, which must retain pride of place.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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