This new CD presents
a fascinating compilation of songs for
baritone and piano. It showcases work
by members of the North West Composers
Association. The release of the recording
is part of the celebrations marking
the centenary of the birth of Thomas
Pitfield, (1903-1999). Three
fine songs by Pitfield open the disc
and one of his attractive wood-cuts
adorns the front cover. The first song,
The Wagon of Life, is a translation
by Alice and Thomas Pitfield of a poem
by Pushkin. The rolling accompaniment
describes the journey of a horse-drawn
wagon as it drives through the course
of life. It is a particularly apt image
with which to begin as the many composers
and poets present different facets of
life's journey and experiences. Pitfield's
skills as a poet are also in evidence.
He sets his own words in the richly
harmonic By the Dee at Night
and in the tender lyric, September
has also found inspiration in the poems
of Thomas Pitfield. Two Cheshire
Verses describe much-loved country
places known to Pitfield. Scott, who
was born in 1949 and studied with Lennox
Berkeley, is also represented by the
beautifully evocative Fall, Leaves,
Fall to a poem by Emily Brontë.
The Scott set is completed by Night
Clouds to a poem by Amy Lowell.
(born 1927), sets poems by Sassoon,
Hardy and Blunden. In Hardy’s Faintheart
in a Railway Station, the composer
writes dramatic music to portray the
rather absurd scenario typical of the
poet’s mixture of longing and gentle
irony. The antics of a hungry pig are
amusingly described in the Blunden setting.
Kimpton is alive both to the narrative
thread and the humour.
(born 1961), combines composing with
a busy career in pathology. Her music
is deceptively simple. Tango,
a setting by her father Wilfred Samuel
Treasure, is a wistful recollection
of a 1940s dance hall encounter. The
brittle piano texture creates an atmosphere
of distant regret. In her setting of
John Clare’s I Saw a Girl, the
texture is again simple with a beautifully
clear accompaniment, yet the composer
remains alive to the expressive qualities
of the poem
The poetry of A.E.
Housman has stimulated many composers.
John R. Williamson, (born 1929),
is not daunted by the competition provided
by Butterworth or Vaughan Williams.
Williamson's own settings are powerful
and finely constructed. The Recruit
and White in the Moon are
large-scale songs with superbly controlled
accompaniments in a rich harmonic language.
Think No More Lad finds the dissonances
of the piano part adding emphasis to
the poet’s advice
(born 1919), set poems by MacNeice and
Marvell. The Marvell poem, The Garden,
is a joyful expression of horticultural
delights well conveyed by the composer.
It cleverly combines an almost atonal
idiom with elements of a Gilbert and
Sullivan patter song. The MacNeice poem,
The Sunlight on the Garden, evokes
darker moods of wartime by the use of
a constantly evolving harmonic palette.
Now Sleeps the Crimson
Petal by Tennyson has attracted
many song composers. A recent setting
by Philip Wood, (born 1972),
is included on this recording. He has
not been daunted by the example of more
famous versions. It is a large-scale
song and works well from within a finely
controlled tonal idiom.
Two fine Psalm settings
by Sasha Johnson Manning, (born
1963), are the only biblical songs on
this recording. The composer has found
the appropriate solemnity and gravitas
for these words. The gentle accompaniment
to My Song Shall be of Mercy and
Judgement is particularly effective.
These songs make an interesting contrast
in terms of subject matter with the
others on the recording, which emphasise
nature and human experience.
Kevin George Brown,
(born 1959), is represented by settings
of Larkin and Henry Howard, Earl of
Surrey. Brown rises to the challenge
of Larkin's multi-faceted and subtle
art. In Henry Howard’s Description
of Spring, the vocal line soars
above a shimmering accompaniment. A
catalogue of animal life is then described;
a passage that bears comparison with
a similar one in Haydn’s Creation.
Three settings of poems
by Steve Hobson allow the composer David
Golightly, (born 1948), to explore
a poetic landscape that is by turns
bleak and exhilarating. The songs form
a cycle entitled Songs of the Clifftop.
Here is a less idealised view of nature
full of powerful elements and the animals
that struggle against them. Among the
finest on the recording, these songs
also attempt to describe the relationship
between nature and music as outlined
by Thomas Carlyle; ‘…the heart of nature
being everywhere music….’. Golightly
and Hobson catch a rare immediacy in
their nature music that chimes with
the approach of Holst in a work such
as Egdon Heath.
The natural world also
provides the theme for Kathleen Collier’s
poems set by the composer David Forshaw,
(born 1938). The Owl presents
a delicate weaving of voice and piano,
the harmonies turning hypnotically.
A still, subterranean world is conjured
in Whale Song. The pointillistic
piano part provides a chilling backdrop
to the singer’s impassioned lines. Appropriately
the final song, Horse, describes
the relationship between animal and
human. It leads the listener full circle
back to Pushkin's horse-drawn wagon.
This is a particularly
enjoyable CD especially for lovers of
English Song. The medium of song with
piano accompaniment has been neglected
in recent years in relation to its heyday
at the time of Ireland, Finzi and others.
In the North West it is a genre that
is clearly healthy and still has much
to offer to those interested in the
combination of words and music. It is
a well recorded CD from the adventurous
Dunelm company and is expertly performed
by Rowlinson and Lawson. Although there
are useful sleeve notes, none of the
words of the songs are printed in the
booklet. However, Rowlinson's diction
is quite good and most of the words
can be caught by careful listening.
English Song lovers should not delay
in purchasing this recording.
see also reviews
Woolf and Anne