Grainger: Jungle Book (CD Review - The Chicago Tribune, 1996)

Collections of the music of Percy Grainger usually emphasize its energy and spriteliness. Not this one. Preceding the first complete recording of his choral settings from Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Book" is a "sea shanty" filled with the heartbreak of many of Grainger's miniatures, revealing a depth his reputation as a jolly eccentric might not have suggested.

The suffering that underlies several of the pieces is the agony of a grown-up clinging to childhood. It's the poignance of Maurice Ravel's "Mother Goose" music but more direct, naked. Few composers identified with the purity and vulnerablilty of youth as completely as Grainger, who in pieces seldom more than four minutes long conveyed the outsize intensity of childhood feeling.

All forces on the present recording are one with Grainger's spirit. If not as varied as the programs Benjamin Britten presented on LP, Stephen Layton's is more consistently fragile and touching. It will move a receptive listener to the very core.


Alan G Artner 

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