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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Dunelm Records

Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999)
The Wagon of Life, By the Dee at Night, September Lovers
Stuart SCOTT (b. 1949)

Alderley, Gawsworth, Fall, Leaves, Fall.
Geoffrey KIMPTON (b. 1927)

Noah, Faintheart in a Railway Station, The Poor Man’s Pig.
Joanna TREASURE (b. 1961)

Tango (do you remember?), I saw the girl.
John R. WILLIAMSON (b. 1929)

The Recruit, White in the Moon, Think no more, lad.
Stephen WILKINSON (b. 1919)

The Sunlight on the Garden, The Garden.
Philip WOOD ( b. 1972)

Now sleeps the Crimson Petal.

Sasha Johnson MANNING ( b. 1963)

My Song shall be of Mercy and Judgement, The Lord is King.
Kevin George BROWN (b. 1959)

Dying Day, Description of Spring.
David GOLIGHTLY (b. 1948)

Songs of the Clifftop: Seabird, After the Kill, Puffin.
David FORSHAW (b. 1938)

The Owl, Whale Song, Horse.
Mark Rowlinson, baritone, Peter Lawson, piano
Recorded at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, 21 and 24 July 2003. DDD
DUNELM RECORDS DRD-0220 [79’24]

 

This recording, titled "The Wagon of Life" and subtitled "Songs of Nature, Life and Love in Time and Place" was recorded to mark the centenary of the birth of Thomas Pitfield. Pitfield died at the age of ninety-six, truly a venerable old veteran whose life witnessed dramatic changes in English music. An unwanted child of elderly parents, Pitfield grew up in an atmosphere antipathetic to creative endeavour. "Godliness is misery" seems to have been the family philosophy. At fourteen, he was sent to work in the engineering workshops for the then thriving cotton industry. Nonetheless, he taught himself to paint and sketch, and to write poetry. One of his pictures, of a tangled willow bent into a stream provides the cover illustration for this recording. He was later to train as a teacher of art and cabinet work; evidently, an all-round craftsman. Although he spent a year at the Royal Manchester School of Music, he maintained that he was largely self-taught. He wrote mostly chamber music and songs. Surprisingly, only three are presented here. The "Wagon of Life", (1944) is a translation from Pushkin by Alice Pitfield, who, though English, grew up in Russia. Its jaunty, jerking rhythms show originality, and it deserves its position as the keynote piece in the whole recording. The mysterious "By the Dee at Night" (1964) is set to a poem by Pitfield himself, as is "September Lovers" (1947). All three have a timeless quality which would make it hard to determine when they were written, were it not for the two sheets of notes that make up the accompanying booklet.

Two other Pitfield poems are set by Stuart Scott : "Alderley" and "Gawsworth" As soon as I heard these, I thought "he must have known Pitfield" so strongly do they seem to evoke Pitfield’s personality. And indeed, this was the case. "Alderley" has a jaunty wit about it, while "Gawsworth" is more introspective. Taught by Lennox Berkeley, Scott is a fairly prolific composer with many orchestral, chamber and solo pieces behind him.

Geoffrey Kimpton studied in Vienna and was a viola player in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. His three songs here benefit from an unusual, lilting piano line, and charming "rippling" expressions. "Faintheart in a Railway Station" illustrates its text dramatically. Here, the music might shine better transcribed for a voice more agile than bass-baritone.

A pathologist and mother, Joanna Treasure sets a poem by her father about a 1940s dance-hall encounter. Its tango rhythms and exuberance have a delightful freshness, even more effective than the more ambitious and longer "I saw the Girl".

"The Recruit" is one of John R. Williamson’s finest settings of Housman. Although he said he was unaware of how extensively the poet had been set when he started composing on the Housman oeuvre, he has now written some 100 settings. Their outstanding character is established by "palindromic" effects: notes going in patterns one way and then back. Unlike most of the other songs in this collection, they acknowledge the modern age, with interesting dissonant effects.

Louis MacNeice’s poem "The Sunlight on the Garden" is so inherently lyrical that it cries out for a musical setting. Stephen Wilkinson’s setting is non-interventionist, in contrast to his setting of Andrew Marvell’s "The Garden", which is one of the most "twentieth century" and unusual of the songs in this set, with its dancing rhythm.

The two youngest composers here, Philip Wood and Sasha Johnson Manning are perhaps the most traditional, in the sense that they could belong to any time in the last fifty years. Tennyson’s "Now sleeps the crimson petal" was written on holiday in Greece. Manning’s two songs based on biblical texts incorporate a sense of "palindrome" too, but smaller and tighter circles of revolving sound.

Kevin George Brown gives Philip Larkin’s "Dying Day" a quiet, almost eerie setting based on long strings of single notes. These same distinctive extended lines feature too, in his setting of the sixteenth century courtier, Henry Howard.

Even more atmospheric are songs from the cycle "Songs of the Clifftop" by David Golightly. These describe sea-birds and natural sights on a cliff over the ocean. The vividness of the images is described well. "The Sea Bird" seems to float soundlessly in the air, just as a sea-bird circles in flight, hovering, not flapping. This music is keenly observed, as if the composer has spent time alone with nature, understanding its pulse. It is subtle, and unobtrusive, as if the composer knows that anything too emphatic might startle the birds and send them fleeing. It is made for visual imagination – how beautiful and effective it would be combined with a good, sensitive nature documentary, that most noble form of British film art. It would also be a rewarding challenge to perform in recital.

"The Owl" in David Forshaw’s first song has a similar feel, although owls have quite different habitats to the soaring sea-birds in Golightly’s songs. "The Horse" starts off as a paean to wild horses galloping free across the plains – hooves evoked in the music. The horse then becomes a "colossus" and "the sweat of honest work" and the song continues in a declamatory vein to loud dominant chords in a firm key.

As a sampler of the music being made in the Manchester region, this recording is useful. It is good value as it has 28 tracks – the last Dunelm recording I listened to had twelve. I would have liked to have heard more of Pitfield, and was surprised that he is only connected with five pieces, as poet and as composer. Nonetheless, it is a showcase for the other, later composers. The singer, Mark Rowlinson, is widely experienced, though the depth of his very bass-oriented baritone lends itself to some songs better than others. The pianist, Peter Lawson teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Anne Ozorio

 



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