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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

Produced to celebrate the centenary of Thomas Pitfield’s birth, in 2003, this is a showcase for the North West Composers’ Association. From a tough childhood Pitfield was self-taught as a draughtsman, poet and essentially as a pianist and composer as well. He seemed to feed on art and craft as surely as petals open to the sun. There’s little of his work currently in the catalogue but admirers cling tenaciously to the Royal Northern College of Music disc, issued a decade ago to welcome his 90th birthday. That gave us his excellent First Violin Sonata and various songs and other chamber pieces – none duplicates the three songs on this new disc.

We do get a rather appropriately Russian-sounding setting of Pushkin in the song that gives this disc its title as well as a spare, elliptical By the Dee at Night – all portent and Pitfield uneasiness. The other composers write in a tonal idiom, sensitive to word-setting in the best tradition, and respond alertly. Stuart Scott’s setting of Pitfield’s own poem, Alderley, sounds like updated Finzi when in robust Hardyesque mood. Night Clouds has a fount of jaunty rhythm to propel Amy Lowell’s evocative words. Geoffrey Kimpton manages to evoke the subtlest of railway rhythms in Faintheart in a Railway Station (a Hardy setting and a clever one to choose), the words "radiant stranger" met with ascending chords of wonder. Joanna Treasure sets her own father’s Tango, the funniest and most outspokenly witty setting of the disc, with its tango sway leading or doubling the lyric line. Then there’s John R Williamson who sets Housman’s The Recruit and manages to insinuate a fractured See the Conqu’ring Hero quotation in anticipation of the very lines – its effect is undercutting, all-seeing, a bleak Hardyesque vision of Housman. He also adds mild dissonance. He sets two more Housman lyrics and in Think No More, Lad the piano part heavily comments, with unambiguous independence and mordancy, on the lyric’s heartiness. Let’s have an album of Williamson’s Housman – he strikes a powerful, troublesome note and he makes one think. Stephen Wilkinson goes from the poetic extremes of Marvell to MacNeice and does justice to both, no mean feat – in the former he’s fast moving with a delicious little melisma along the way. Philip Wood takes on the challenge of Now sleeps the Crimson Petal and meets it with austere romanticism whilst Sasha Johnson Manning’s two Psalm settings are variously limpid and proudly propulsive. Is it coincidence or does Kevin George Brown hint at the Moonlight Sonata in his setting of Larkin’s Dying Day? David Golightly sets nature poems by Steve Hobson – spare and elliptical, with After the Kill full of precision in the writing and flurries of movement. We end with David Forshaw whose Horse is splendidly drama-fuelled and imperious.

Baritone Mark Rowlinson has quite some ground to cover here; he comes under strain in some settings, especially at the top of the compass but digs into the half head voice of Golightly’s Puffin and meets many of the challenges with great understanding. Peter Lawson is the unruffled pianist – if there is any ruffling in the piano part he keeps it securely inaudible.

Jonathan Woolf

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