New Classical Tracks: Percy Grainger's 'Chosen Gems'

Album cover
Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra, Clark Rundell.
Album cover

This new recording is a treasure trove of wind band music written by Percy Grainger. According to the composer, these pieces are "Chosen Gems for Winds."

These transcriptions for wind orchestra make up an unusual historical collection of music spanning seven centuries.

Australian-born American pianist/composer Percy Grainger first fell in love with band music while playing oboe and soprano saxophone in a United States Army band.

Grainger was an innovator who thrived on musical experimentation, like putting jazz on the syllabus when he was dean of music at New York University and inviting Duke Ellington to be a guest lecturer.

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Then Grainger pondered the idea of applying his band treatment to mediaeval and Baroque music. Grainger started formulating transcriptions and testing them out at the International Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, where he was a teacher from 1937 to 1944.

Many of those transcriptions have been recorded for the first time on this new release, with Clark Rundell and the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra.

J.S. Bach had a profound influence on Percy Grainger, who included three works by Bach in his "Chosen Gems for Winds." In the aria, "See what His love can do," Grainger gives the solo part, originally for a tenor, to the entire ensemble, fashioning a rich, sonic landscape.

Grainger also turns a little march from Bach's "Notebook for Anna Magdalena" into a full-fledged marching band extravaganza.

One of my favorite pieces on this new recording pre-dates Bach. It's the Five-Part Fantasy No. 15 by John Jenkins. Jenkins was a 16th-century composer whose life spanned 86 years, allowing him to witness great changes in English music.

Grainger enhances the musical flavor of this five-part fantasy by letting each wind instrument provide added spice. The Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra provides a stronger emotional punch with effective loud and soft dynamics.

One of Cesar Franck's last compositions was a chorale written originally for organ. This work shares some of its themes with the composer's only symphony.

Grainger's wind arrangement of this chorale is the longest and most ambitious of his "Chosen Gems for Winds." Grainger's tasteful transcription demonstrates his expertise in wind orchestration.

This new collection of transcriptions for wind orchestra is a wealth of musical riches. Percy Grainger's "Chosen Gems for Winds" are now available for all to enjoy, thanks to the bold performance offered by Clark Rundell and the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra.