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.
Piano Concerto No 1
1) Allegro risoluto sample
2) Grave sample
3) Allegro galamente sample
The Second Piano Concerto is briefer and much less
conventional. There are three short movements – Dance Prologue sample
, Interlude on White Keys sample
, and Air and Variations sample .
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
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