Grainger: The Warriors
Philharmonia / Gardiner
(DG 445 860-2)
Percy Grainger spent a lifetime bemoaning a world that he believed was "dying of 'good taste' ". So he wrote The Warriors - the ultimate corrective, a hymn to the joys of dissolution. And if you've any kind of taste for folly, you owe it to yourself to experience it at least once. Never mind that you already own half a dozen recordings of The Planets: this could be 18 minutes and 21 seconds that you might never forget.
Grainger described his magnum opus as "music for an imaginary ballet", a commission for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes that never actually materialised. But by then The Warriors had grown in his imagination to the point of mental ejaculation. He envisaged a tribal pageant, a gathering of the ghostly clans of human kind in "an orgy of war-like dances, processions, merry-making" - and amour. For his "wild sexual concert", Grainger wheeled out three grand pianos and a battery of tuned percussion in almost perpetual motion. A Heckelphone (bass oboe) takes centre-stage for the central love- in, a serenade as strange as it is beautiful, while off-stage brass herald an expensive pay-off that brings a whole new intensity to the term nobilmente.
John Eliot Gardiner's Planets, meanwhile, are probably better sounding than any currently before us: Uranus, the magician, flings down one sensationally rude pedal-point in brass and organ before vanishing into the ether. Gardiner may be a little sparing with the rhetoric for some tastes, but the rhythmic brilliance (Jupiter has rarely danced like this) and marmoreal beauty of his reading leave their impression.
Edward SeckersonReuse content