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Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999)
*Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor (1947) [23:28]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1960) [11:32]
Studies on an English Dance-Tune (1961) [4:35]
Arietta and Finale (1932) [4:51]
Toccata (1953) [3:54]
Xylophone Sonata (1987) [6:22]
*Anthony Goldstone (piano)
Peter Donohoe (piano; xylophone)
Royal Northern College of Music Orchestra/Andrew Penny
rec. Brown Shipley Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, December 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557291 [54:41]

This is the latest release in the Naxos British Piano Concerto series. Having so far concentrated on relatively well-known names - even if their piano concertos are hardly everyday listening - here comes the music of someone much more obscure. Born in Bolton of humble origins, Thomas Pitfield managed to study briefly at the Royal Manchester College of Music and returned there as a member of its teaching staff in 1947. That was the year he wrote his First Piano Concerto at the behest of Stephen Wearing, who gave the first performance with the (now Royal) Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The excellent essay in the booklet by John Turner informs us that "as a composer, Pitfield was essentially self-taught". Indeed his music is a little hard to place although reasonably obviously "British". Coming from an original, if almost forgotten voice, this seems well worth resurrecting.

When Pitfield retired from teaching in 1973 the First Concerto was revived at a farewell concert by Anthony Goldstone who plays it here most convincingly in a recording made thirty years later. Structurally not particularly remarkable – there are three movements in the classical format, Pitfield’s material is harmonically interesting and tuneful in a folkish kind of manner. The piano part is felicitous and accompaniment relatively sparse but includes significant percussion.

The Second Piano Concerto is briefer and much less conventional. There are three short movements – Dance Prologue, Interlude on White Keys, and Air and Variations. The latter is based on the folksong The Oak and the Ash and there are three variations. The work was commissioned by a publisher friend but it is not now clear when it was premiered. Peter Donohoe takes over as soloist for the rest of the disc and dashes this off with great aplomb. As in the First Concerto, the Royal Northern College of Music Orchestra give excellent support under Andrew Penny.

There are seven studies on an English Dance-Tune, the tune being Jenny Pluck Pears. They are for solo piano and proper miniatures with none lasting as much as a full minute. Only the third – Cantabile Melody – is in a remotely slow tempo. Written for John McCabe when he was a student, he performed it first at the Royal Manchester College. The Arietta and Finale, and Toccata are earlier works for solo piano which are less strikingly original but attractive enough.

In many ways the best is left until last. Peter Donohoe leaves the piano, picks up his sticks and impresses greatly in the Xylophone sonata, a work written when Pitfield was in his mid-eighties and still remarkably productive. In four movements, this work catches the ears and charms without being in the least inconsequential. If your collection lacks anything for solo Xylophone (as mine did), this would be a very good place to start.

All in all, a most interesting disc which is well-played, recorded and annotated. Collectors of this excellent series will surely have bought it by now and anyone else fancying something a little different should join them. Finally, the picture on the front is a lino cut by Pitfield entitled Macclesfield. He died in Cheshire just a few years ago – a pity he didn’t live to see the disc issued.

Patrick C Waller

See also review by Rob Barnett




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