WORKS: Jungle Book; Shallow Brown; Kipling settings
PERFORMER: Libby Crabtree (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (baritone); Polyphony, The Polyphony Orchestra/Stephen Layton
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66863 DDD
You can understand why Percy Grainger, that wild eccentric, might be inspired by Kipling’s Jungle Book. He believed that the savage natural world was purer and more peaceable than the ‘civilised’ one, and his cycle of Kipling settings was a lifelong obsession, occupying some six decades in all. The rhythmic dislocations of ‘Mowgli’s Song against People’ and the almost religious paean to the innocent primitivism of the Eskimo (in ‘The Inuit’) bear witness to the iconoclastic streak in Grainger.
Other Kipling settings are found elsewhere on the disc, as are a selection of Grainger’s endlessly resourceful folk-song arrangements. Only two tracks overlap with the excellent Gardiner collection (reviewed in June), one of which is the haunting shanty ‘Shallow Brown’. David Wilson-Johnson is superb for Hyperion, and there are some splendidly chilling effects from the massed mandolin, ukulele and guitar players. Stephen Layton’s Polyphony is a very accomplished vocal ensemble, but Gardiner’s rendering has a touch more immediacy, partly a matter of microphone placement, partly of tighter rhythmic control, and partly the ability of his choir to produce phrasing and colouring quite out of the ordinary. The Gardiner collection is unbeatable, but Polyphony’s nicely complements it and offers the first recording of the Jungle Book. Barry Millington