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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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