all of these pieces are new to me, I feel that Murray McLachlan
– who is Head of Keyboard Studies at Chetham’s School of Music,
Manchester and tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music, also
situated in Manchester – gives excellent, enjoyable and convincing
interpretations, helped by an amazing, fluent piano technique.
Having got to know several of John R. Williamson’s works in recent
years (mostly through Dunelm’s splendid recordings), I instantly
recognised his individual style throughout this CD, a style that
I find compelling and enjoyable. Some listeners might not take
to his unusual harmonies immediately, but I recommend that they
should make an earnest attempt to get to know this music, which
is varied, brilliantly written for piano, and ultimately rewarding.
are five works on this CD in the following order:
of Nature (1993): A lovely, nature-sound-picture which took
me into the countryside! This generated in me a similar feeling
to that of some of his settings of Twelve Housman Songs; a
lovely set on DRD0133.
Palindromic Preludes Set 5 (2000): As with the 1996 set of
12 Palindromic Preludes (recorded on Volume 1), John R.
Williamson creates a remarkably wide range of feelings and atmosphere
in these 12 pieces, each being in a different centre key. Their
order produces some excellent contrasts.
No.4 – the Palindromic (1998): This is a substantial 4-movement
work almost 21 minutes long, with vigorous, brilliantly virtuosic
outer movements, a lovely "Pastorale" slow second movement
(well sustained at nearly 8½ minutes long). The third movement
is a delightful, often light-hearted "Alla Scherzo",
but containing some powerful sections, too.
Interval Preludes (2001): The second work published in the
21st century featured on this CD is an excellently
varied set of studies, written using John R. Williamson’s personal
palindromic methods. Following in the footsteps of Debussy, here
every piece is constructed on a particular interval in the following
order: 7ths, 6ths, 5ths, 4ths, 3rds, 2nds, and octaves, alternately
contrasted in mood.
for Sarah (1998): This is a most moving closing item, superbly
played – with much feeling – by the composer.
with Volume 1 in this series (Dunelm Records DRD0134) the recording
was made in the Whiteley Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester
(by kind permission of Stephen Threlfall, Director of Music).
Once more Jim Pattison has made a first-rate recording, reproducing
the splendid piano sound and the natural acoustics of the hall,
to give the listener full enjoyment. The CD booklet is excellent,
including photographs, though I’d have appreciated a little more
information about the 4th Sonata.
conclusion, John R. Williamson’s use of palindromic methods is
outstanding and feels perfectly natural. In Murray McLachlan –
a persuasive advocate for his music – he benefits from an artist
whose skill in performing these works from manuscript is incomparable.
See also review of Twelve
Letter from the composer
I felt that I just had to write
and express my gratitude to you on the most eloquent and discerning
review of my 12 Housman Songs Disc. You have indeed reflected
a sincere insight into my particular and, if I may say so, my
very personal compulsion towards Housman's unique poetical messages.
You seem to be the first critic who has uncovered my personal
obsession with Housman so accurately. Actually, when I came across
Housman's poems in the 80s, I had no idea that he was already
so prolifically set by a host of others. I was so drawn to the
opposites of pastoral beauty and the irony of man's destruction,
the obsession with death, it all seemed to reflect the tragedies
of my own life. You certainly saw through me. I became immediately
a member of the Housman Society. I have been performed by a few
baritones, but several of high repute have not shown a preference
for my work.
To fill in some your unknowns
about me, I am in my early 70s and have set about 90 of Housman's
poems, outstripping all other composers in this field, being about
two thirds of his total output. I may say also, after some criticism
of my songs by the renowned baritone Stephen Varcoe, that I have
revised a great deal of the piano parts in the 12 songs on the
disc, which I now consider to be inferior to my revisions. I intend
to produce a 2nd. disc of Housman in the near future.
Thank you again for your astonishing perception
of my work.
With kindest regards,
John R. Williamson, b. 1929