The only health warning
with this excellent release from Cameo
is to take the programme a bite at a
time. There are so many interesting
bits and pieces on this CD that it would
be a pity to allow them to pass over
your head. And perhaps bits and pieces
is the operative phrase. Here we
have nine works for piano duet by seven
eminent composers, some better known
than others. But the unifying features
are the North Country and the sheer
attractiveness of the music.
The first piece is
Walton’s Portsmouth Point. Be
prepared to hear this work as you have
never heard it before. I have always
enjoyed the orchestral version - but
have come to appreciate it even more
after hearing this piano duet arrangement.
The 'jazziness' of the music is especially
highlighted as is the general structure
of the piece. The necessity of a slightly
simplified score for two pianos allows
the listener to hear themes and sub-themes
with great clarity. A fine opening number.
The Oldham composer is also represented
by Siesta which, in its piano
duet version, retains all the ‘Mediterranean'
The Duets for Children
were originally written for Walton's
brother's children - Elisabeth and Michael.
The original piano pieces were seen
as being too difficult for 'children'
and were re-written as duets. Later
they were orchestrated. The ten pieces
are all extremely short and exemplify
moods and notions that may once have
been popular with children. However
one cannot help wondering, in the age
of Nintendo, just how popular a Puppet’s
Dance, Swing Boats or a Pony
Trap would be? These are not important
pieces; however they well reflect the
creativity and craftsmanship of one
of Britain’s great composers. And they
are never patronising.
Alan Rawsthorne was
born in Haslingden - in fact the interested
listener can stay at the birth-place
which is now a hotel. The Creel
- which is also the title of the Rawsthorne
Trust news-sheet - was originally composed
with young players in mind. It uses
some 'fishy' imagery to underscore the
titles of each piece. It is worth quoting
the those titles - derived from Izaak
Walton's Compleat Angler -
The Mighty PIKE is the Tyrant of the
The SPRAT: a Fish that is ever in
The CARP is the Queen of the Rives;
a Stately, a good and a very Subtil
The Leap or Summersault of the Salmon.
The music is extremely
well wrought and is certainly not written
down to amateur players. Everything
about this delightful work suggests
the master enjoying himself. It is one
of the minor treasures of English music.
Thomas Pitfield is
one of those composers who is under-represented
in the CD catalogues and concert programmes.
Partly this may be due to a large proportion
of his music being miniatures – often
written for children or amateurs. However,
there are a few large-scale works that
need exploring. Naxos recently issued
his piano concertos which are both certainly
well worth hearing. And there is a large
scale five-movement Sinfonietta
and a Violin Concerto which remain
desiderata for enthusiasts of English
The Minors: Suite
is perhaps the most engaging ‘original’
work here. It was composed for the husband
and wife duo Hedwig Stein and Iso Elinson
who were personal friends and colleagues
of the composer. There are four contrasting
movements, a Galliard, a Sarabande,
a Sinister Dance and a Rigaudon.
Leonard Isaacs’ Two
Piano Duets based on Folk Tunes
are well constructed pieces that would
grace any recital. There is nothing
difficult here – just two really attractive
tunes. They were written in 1959. Listeners
may recognise the melodies from arrangements
by Roger Quilter and Percy Grainger.
This does not detract from the value
and the sheer beauty of Isaacs’ essay.
Perhaps most people
know of Percy Young as a prolific writer
about music. I have a fair number of
his books in my personal library. Apparently
he also has quite an extensive catalogue
of compositions which are largely unknown.
The present set of Five Folk Song
Duets is a lovely contribution to
the genre .Each of the well known tunes
is dedicated to a personal friend of
the composer. Full details are given
in the programme notes.
There is very little
information about Roy Heaton Smith.
According to the programme notes he
has been involved in music all his life
– having won a County Music Scholarship
to attend the Royal Manchester College
of Music. It appears he won a competition
with Phantasy, a cantata for
choir and strings. There is also a clarinet
concerto which was broadcast in the
The present Sonatina
was composed in 1990 for the son and
daughter of close friends of the composer.
It is an attractive work which is stylistically
ambiguous but can hardly claim our attention
for more than one or two performances.
Apparently after the ink dried on this
piece Heaton Smith gave up composing.
Norman Cocker suffers
from being known for one work – the
Tuba Tune for organ. A little
peek at the CD catalogue reveals seven
recordings currently available of this
ubiquitous work - and not a lot else.
There’s also an Interlude and
a Paean with a single recording
of each. In fact there appears to be
very little music in the Cocker catalogue:
a few organ pieces, a handful of anthems
and the Eight Duets for Piano.
These lovely pieces appear to have been
written during the composer’s years
of military service with the 16th
Lancashire Fusiliers during the First
World War. Titles include Mock Morris,
Scène du Ballet, Clog
Dance, Dance of the Fairies
and In an Old Garden. In spite
of there being a touch of the Albert
Ketèlbeys about some of these
pieces they have a charm and freshness
that never falls into direct pastiche
of any one composer ... except perhaps
Percy Grainger and his Clog Dance!
These are great pieces that would grace
any amateur recital or provide a concert
pianist playing the Bridgewater Hall
with a localised encore.
Keith Swallow and John
Wilson are quite clearly enjoying themselves.
They play each piece ‘to the hilt’ and
without any sense of condescension.
Many of these numbers may be for young
players – but it is better to consider
this as meaning that the music appeals
to children of all ages!
It is nice to discover
a CD devoted to musical compositions
from that far-off country beyond Watford
Gap. There is plenty more awaiting discovery.
One last point. The
CD was recorded with the assistance
of the Ida Carroll Trust. For those
listeners who studied the attractive
and often quite difficult piano pieces
of her husband Walter, this is an added
bonus. This Trust does much to further
music-making in the North Country. And
do not forget to check out Walter’s
superb Piano Sonata on Carrolling