Grainger: Jungle Book (CD Review - The Age, Melbourne, 1996)

"The worth of my music will never be guessed or its value to mankind felt, until the approach to it is consciously undertaken as a pilgrimage to sorrows." So wrote Percy Grainger, a composer whose music we normally associate with the dandified frivolity of Handel in the Strand or English Country Gardens.

Stephen Layton and is fine choir Polyphony do Grainger a great service by making this disc essentially a "pilgrimage to sorrows".The moving rendition of the sea shanty Shallow Brown on the first track shows Grainger's superb ability to plumb the depths of human sorrow.  Its moaning and wailing accompaniment of harmonium, guitars, mandolins, ukeleles and the like sounds very much like a raging storm at sea.

At the heart of this recital lie Grainger's Jungle Book settings.The pervasive melancholy of Kipling's verse seems to have released Grainger from his more stock-in-trade style and allowed him greater freedom in harmony and orchestration.  Particularly effective Jungle Book settings include the elegiac Beaches of Lukannon, with its mirage-like middle section, the baying Red Dog so well realised by John Mark Ainsley and The Only Son, where Grainger and Polyphony are at their sinuous and sensuous best.  Layton has also included Grainger's settings of folk songs and other texts by Kipling, whose famous Recessional is set in a fervently "proper" Edwardian style, suggesting Tories-at-prayer.

Tony Way

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