Grainger: Works for solo piano, Vol. 1

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Works for solo piano, Vol. 1
PERFORMER: Penelope Thwaites (piano)
The great thing about Percy Grainger is that he cannot be pigeon-holed. His mould-breaking ideas made him avant-garde, while he also had the popular touch. Above all, everything he wrote communicated a huge sense of enjoyment. There is a personal character to his music, also, which gradually emerges as Grainger expert Penelope Thwaites journeys through the first decade of his composing life, in what is the first of five projected CDs of his complete piano music. The unique Grainger glow, which comes from wistful chromatic harmonies that are spiked with wit, is definitely there by 1900, when he wrote ‘Sailor’s Song’ and ‘Walking Tune’. And in his famous setting of the Londonderry Air and the provocative harmonies of ‘Near Woodstock Town’, the mature Grainger is fully present. It’s possible to imagine more stunning bravura in the Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz, with which the 19-year-old Grainger ended his first London recital in 1901, but Thwaites gets round the notes smartly enough and has the measure of all the stylistic references. And she clearly enjoys herself with the final piece, ‘In Dahomey’, which boasts the wonderfully apt subtitle of ‘Cakewalk Smasher’. Adrian Jack