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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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John R WILLIAMSON (b.1940s)
Music for Piano - volume 2
Song of Nature (1993) [4.20]
Twelve Palindromic Studies - set 5 (2000) [26.46]
Piano Sonata No. 4 - The Palindromic (1998) [20.49]
Seven Interval Studies (2001) [18.21]
Lament for Sarah (1998) [2.41]
Murray McLachlan (except last item which is played by composer)
rec. 17 Dec 2002, 19 Jan 2003, Whiteley Hall, Chetham's School of Music, Manchester. DDD
DUNELM DRD0176 [74.06]

Though 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.

There are five works on this CD in the following order:

Song 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.

12 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.

Sonata 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.

Seven 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.

Lament for Sarah (1998): This is a most moving closing item, superbly played – with much feeling – by the composer.

As 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.

In 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. Highly recommended.

Ian Milnes

See also review of Twelve Housman Songs

Letter from the composer

Dear Rob

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


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