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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Dunelm Recordings

 

The Wagon of Life - Songs of Nature, Life and Love in Time and Place
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
DUNELM RECORDS DRD-0220 [79.24]

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 Lovers.

Stuart Scott 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.

Geoffrey Kimpton, (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.

Joanna Treasure, (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

Stephen Wilkinson, (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.

David Hackbridge Johnson

see also reviews by Jonathan Woolf and Anne Ozorio



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