the harmonious songsmith

The Australian composer and eccentric Percy Grainger died 50 years ago this coming Sunday, on 20th February 1961. Last night we attended the opening concert in the short Celebrating Grainger 2011 season at London’s Kings Place, and what a joyous and oft-times moving event it was. The concert, entitled The Harmonious Songsmith, featured a selection of Grainger’s glorious choral arrangements of folk and other songs, showcasing his wide range of settings, from verses by Kipling, to versions of English, Scottish, Australian and Danish traditional tunes. Performed by the Addison Singers with soloists Yvonne Kenny (soprano), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), David Webb (tenor) and the delightful Annie Fredriksson (soprano), and with virtuosic piano accompaniment on some of the songs by the season’s artistic director Penelope Thwaites and the Addison Singers’ Matthew Hough, this was a programme full of choral delights and discoveries. While many of the songs have an infectiously jaunty side, Grainger’s arrangements also often display deft and haunting emotional touches. “Under a Bridge”, a Danish folk song, is wonderfully playful; Kipling’s “Soldier, soldier” is devastating and tragic (and, more tragically, still relevant), and his “The Widow’s Party” quite riotous. After the interval we were treated to the sublime shanty “Shallow Brown” – the piece that first woke me to Grainger’s musical world. Every time I hear it, I’m still amazed at how such simple resources – in this instance, a piano and a dozen male voices – can so vividly render the ebb and flow of the sea, and a woman’s yearning for the return of her sailor-love. The concert ended with the uplifting and rousing song “I’m Seventeen Come Sunday”, a triumphant flourish to send us humming on our way. A day later, I’m still humming Grainger’s wonderful tunes.

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One thought on “the harmonious songsmith

  1. marianthe

    I love this review, its almost as if i was there myself….you should review these sort of events professionally…for the Guardian or the Times…keep them coming

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