The Romantic piano transcription tradition found a willing and eager exponent in Percy Grainger, whose numerous “free-rambles” increasingly are taken up by pianists on disc. A wide range of musical genres provided grist for Grainger’s mill, and Australian pianist Janine Sowden offers a judicious, well-programmed sampling. More often than not the piano writing is thick with notes, all of which need to be carefully voiced and balanced. Happily, Sowden commands Grainger’s idiosyncratic keyboard idiom from the bottom up, relishing the bass lines in the Bach D minor Toccata and Fugue with the same gusto Grainger brought to his own ancient version on 78s. She also mirrors the transcriber/pianist’s unabashed sentiment in his Brahms Cradle Song, his paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers, and the luscious “Ramble On Love”, freely derived from the second act love duet in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.
If there’s anything missing from Sowden’s playing, it’s a sense of risk and abandon. She takes the hackneyed Country Gardens, for example, at a careful clip that plays down the music’s boisterous demeanor. Similarly, In Dahomey proceeds at less than the swashbuckling cakewalk Joseph Smith (Musical Heritage Society) and Marc-Andre Hamelin (Hyperion) make it out to be. Still and all, it’s convenient to have all of Grainger’s best transcriptions in one collection, and ASV’s engineering conveys a sense of juicy wallop that Grainger would have loved. Recommended.