Friday, August 14, 2009

Percy Grainger - "Irish Tune from County Derry"

This is a departure, but it's a deserving one.

Back in school, we had a couple of regional bands, and one of the tunes we played was Percy Grainger's masterpiece "Irish Tune from County Derry", known world wide as "Danny Boy".

Here's a rendition by the Illiana Wind Ensemble in Illinois that's very similar to the wind orchestra version that we did. After running through about 20 youtube versions, I chose this one for several reasons. Firstly, it doesn't involve strings, and I think strings strangely take away from this piece. Secondly, the balancing of the instruments is really nice on this version - some of the others are bit brash. It's not quite as buttery smooth as I remember us playing it, but that might be rose tinted spectacles, or it might be down to us having the most astounding conductor who gave me (and hopefully everyone else) a sense of grasping for perfection in a way that nobody else ever has.

Or it might be the phrasing - and for that, this is the best performance of it that I can find by a mile. I remember our conductor actually instructing us that he wanted us all to take a sniff at the end of the long phrases, and really put that silent gap in on the first beat of the bar. I think he actually started us sniffing out loud, then told us to do it silently later - and you can really feel that gap here, like a chunk of silence driven right through the heart of the music. It makes it special.

And finally, the whole piece has great shape. It's one of the recurring themes I keep coming back to across all genres of music - is there shape? Is it going anywhere? Well this does, and it does it subtly, gently, despairingly and hopefully.

Here it is - four breathtakingly emotional minutes of an orchestra pleading with you.

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