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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Flying Kites - A Trafford Miscellany
Sasha Johnson MANNING (b.1963) Flying Kites for recorder and piano [3:15]
Robert ELLIOTT (1932-2002) Piano Sonatina op. 2 [5:58]
Robin WALKER (b.1953) Four Nursery Rhymes to texts by Thomas Pitfield for reciter, recorder and piano (2003) [3:26]
Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999) Xylophone Sonata [7:32]; The Skeleton Bride for reciter and piano [3:10]; Rain for reciter, xylophone and piano [1:15]; Bones for reciter and xylophone [1:29]; Bagatelle No. 3 for piano [1:55]
David BECK (b.1941) A Dunham Pastoral for recorder and piano (2004) [6:01]
John IRELAND (1879-1962) The Island Spell for piano (1912) [3:28]; Annabel Lee for reciter and piano (1910) [3:53]
Martin ELLERBY (b.1957) River Dances for recorder and piano (2005) [12:19]
James LANGLEY (1927-1994) Five Shakespeare Dances for recorder (1992) [9:06]
Christopher COTTON (b. 1947) Rural Rondo for recorder and piano [4:52]
Richard Baker (reciter), John Turner (recorder), Keith Swallow (piano), Damien Harron (percussion)
rec. The King’s School, Macclesfield, 29-30 March 2005. DDD
CAMPION CAMEO 2044 [60:52]


There used to be a delightful half-hour programme on what was then the Third Programme - or was it the Home Service - I forget. It was called Music in Miniature - in the course of which the titles of the individual items were not announced until the end. This seemed somehow to increase the intensity with which one listened; only frustrating if the telephone rang as the titles were being given out! I remember several ‘treats’ that this programme delivered for me: a Viennese Waltz Idyll by Frank Tapp - and Green Pastures for cello and piano by Godfrey Sampson. Ah - Nostalgia!
 
Quixotically I decided that I would treat the present CD in the same way and determined to listen before reading even the titles or the accompanying matter. Although this ploy came slightly unstuck with The Island Spell which, of course, I knew so well, there were indeed surprises. In fact the next track of River Dances I had to play twice, finding it so immediately attractive. Needless to say I abandoned my ploy - and discovered Richard Baker’s mellow voice, Cardus-like, umpiring the outfield with the Pitfield, Keith Swallow et al - in an entertainment that quite happily fell into the vein of that warmly recollected programme of so long ago.
 
This recital - a miscellany with its origins ostensibly in Manchester’s district of Trafford - could the sadly neglected figure of Christopher Edmunds not have deserved a place too? - is just the sort of music-making that we have come to expect from John Turner and his friends.
 
From the opening kite-flying pastoral of Sasha Johnson Manning and the Sonatina of Robert Elliott to the macabre of Tom Pitfield’s The Skeleton Bride - “see how my ribs let the moonlight in”! - the recital is nothing if not varied, echoing Pitfield’s many talents as composer, poet and artist. The prevailing mood borders perhaps on the macabre - with Poe, James Langley’s Shakespearan caricatures, the wintry landscape of Dunham Park, its imaginative lines ‘etched on the grey waste of sky’ like a Pitfield drawing. All this is thrown into relief by the exquisite Bagatelle No. 3 of Tom, Pitfield (where 'O where are the other two?) and the final Rural Rondo. From Pitfield also we have a Xylophone Sonata - trickling with repeated notes characteristic both of the instrument and the composer’s music, Bones for reciter and piano; the Façade-like Lily Pickle and other nursery rhymes set by Robin Walker to Pitfield’s rhymes and in which the unfortunate mouse’s death throes are gruesome! Despite the shivers, this is an hour’s very entertaining divertissement - and much to be recommended!
 
Colin Scott-Sutherland
 
 
... and a further perspective from Rob Barnett:-
 
The liquid free-wheeling rhapsodic manner of Sasha Manning's Flying Kites has a softened Gallic accent touched with willow pattern nostalgia. Self-taught Manning lives in Bowdon where she is director of music at the local church. Born in Cheshire she has written a large-scale requiem for unacccompanied chorus..
 
Robert Elliott was from Cheltenham. His Sonatina is a sparkling, playful and reflective piece written a little in the manner of Ireland even more so of Percy Turnbull.
 
Richard Baker is a well-known broadcaster in the UK and although now no longer seen on television he has developed a concert career as raconteur and reciter. He makes a welcome appearance on several tracks here.
 
Thomas Pitfield, polymath and modest Northern British composer, wrote a widely variegated span of music. His Nursery Rhymes are cantankerously eccentric in a manner pretty close to Walton's Facade. Then comes his playful four movement Xylophone Sonata complete with Lambert references in the jazzy Reel (tr. 10).
 
David Beck's A Dunham Pastoral was inspired by Tom Pitfield's poem Dunham Park (Winter Evening) here read by Baker before the music. It is also printed in the excellent booklet. Living in Sale, Beck was taught at Cambridge by Patrick Hadley and Peter Tranchell - how long before we hear Tranchell's Hardy opera The Mayor of Casterbridge? A Dunham Pastoral accommodates more dissonance than the others but it's modest and the writing is magical - especially the breathtakingly poetic reflections from 3:21 onwards.
 
Back to Pitfield the composer and his The Skeleton Bride. Richard Baker was always a class act. He remains so, with perfectly rounded and defined English pronunciation and word colouring even if age has added a tremor to his delivery. The Hardyesque poem by Phoebe Hesketh is cool, humorous, melancholy and passionate; all nicely conveyed by Baker.
 
The presence of Island Spell is well judged. Ireland was another Cheshire son whose yielding legacy has actually found some modest success. Good to hear Island Spell again in such a liquid-flowing impulse from the wonderful Keith Swallow. The work was started on holiday in 1912 in Fauvic on Jersey and finished the following year. It is the first piece in the suite Decorations.
 
Martin Ellerby lives on the outskirts of Altrincham. He studied composition with Joseph Horovitz. He has writtten three symphonies, seven concertos and a Requiem. River Dances is another poetic-lyrical piece. It is full of lapidary pastoral pleasures both subtle and warm as in Ross Mill and jackanapes-lively as in Kenworthy's Mill and Piglet Stairs. There's also that tear-threaded sense of beauty and passing time lovingly focused in The Epilogue and Prologue. The sequence arises from Ellerby's walks along the River Bollin guided by John Steedman's Walks Around Altrincham. John Turner, whose beneficent presence is the initiating and sustaining spark for the recorder pieces here provided further inspiration and impetus.
 
Then three further pieces by Pitfield. Rain fascinates with its slow paced recitation and piano part cotnrasted with the manic shower impacts of the xylophone. Knitting needles are used as beaters. Bones is a little charatcer piece - rather regretful. The Bagatelle No. 3 calls again on Keith Swallow for its gentle nostalgic wash - apparently inspired by one of Barber's Excursions.
 
Now to John Turner solo for Langley's Shakespeare Dances. Though Birmingham-born he moved to Sale in 1970. These grotesques were writtten for John in 1992. Each is based on a quote from a Shakespeare play - two from Twelfth Night.
 
Ireland's melodrama takes Poe's famous poem Annabel Lee as its subject. Ireland's piano part rocks and cradles the words which Baker similarly relishes. It dates from 1910 and may well have taken inspiration from his contemporary Joseph Holbrooke who wrote numerous Poe-inpsired pieces including A Choral Symphony. This is a most beautiful piece - caught to perfection here.
 
It was not so long ago that I heard Sale-born Christopher Cotton's Requiem. Now here is his Rural Rondo which after a meditative introduction pitches into a flightily happy rondo and then moves superbly to Finzian poesy at 2:13. The piano part carries an echo of Finzi's It was a lover and his lass.
 
Rob Barnett
 

 



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