Grainger: Rambles and Reflections (piano transcriptions)

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Rambles and Reflections (piano transcriptions)
PERFORMER: Piers Lane (piano)
It’s amazing to think that there was once a time when Percy Grainger was dismissed as an eccentric rehasher of other people’s tunes. There is more imaginative genius in these transcriptions than in many of his contemporaries’ ‘original’ compositions. Whether it’s John Dowland’s ‘Now, o now, I needs must part’ or George Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’, Grainger has a way of opening extraordinary new expressive vistas which, however outrageous they seem, always spring in some way from the essence of the music. Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ blossoms outrageously in Grainger’s virtuoso re-creation, but Tchaikovsky’s glorious tune is always felt as the starting point for the brilliant elaborations. At the other extreme, ‘Nell’ retains something of the exquisite poise of Fauré’s song, and yet Grainger’s cunning additions give the original vocal melody an expressive power few singers could match without overloading the music. Still, Grainger isn’t performance-proof, and to get the best out of both those arrangements, go straight to Piers Lane’s recital. Penelope Thwaites clearly understands and loves this music, and her collection has more of the old Grainger favourites (‘Country Gardens’, ‘Handel in the Strand’…). But often there’s a sense that she’s trying just a little too hard to make favourite details speak – it’s rather like having someone nudge you just before each delicious harmonic scrunch or witty counterpoint. Lane’s playing may at first sound more contained, but in his performances the combination of crystalline brilliance and focused inner intensity can be breathtaking. It may seem odd to say this about such a quirky, sensual character as Grainger, but there are times when Piers Lane manages to find something almost transcendent in these inspired re-creations. Strongly recommended to connoisseur and newcomer alike. Stephen Johnson