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British Piano Concertos - Pitfield / Penny, Goldstone, Et Al


Release Date: 10/18/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557291   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Thomas Pitfield
Performer:  Anthony GoldstonePeter Donohoe
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

There has been a notable absence of British piano music in concerts and recordings made over the last thirty five years or so and it is therefore to be applauded that Naxos started to produce a ‘British Piano Concertos’ series. Fortunately this has increased the number of works by Thomas Pitfield available to us on CD.

Born in the first years of the twentieth century and belonging to a generation of composers whose works found their way into the concert hall following the Second World War, Thomas Pitfield was a largely self-taught composer who wrote prolifically for all kinds of instruments and for every type of ensemble.

Folk music influenced the style and form of his compositions but always remained
Read more subservient to self-expression. Of the pieces recorded here, it is most apparent in the second Piano Concerto (The Oak and the Ash) and the Studies on an English Dance-Tune (Jenny Pluck Pears).

Good craftsmanship is a quality ever present in Pitfield’s music and readily reveals itself in Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor. It was written in 1946-47 for Stephen Wearing who gave the first performance with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Hugo Rignold in November 1949. This concerto is one of Pitfield’s best large-scale works, presenting the soloist with some technical problems which Anthony Goldstone, well supported by Andrew Penny and the RNCM Orchestra, copes with admirably.

The interplay between piano and orchestra, especially in the canonic treatment of the first theme in the opening movement, is skilfully marked by clarity of line and texture in this performance. The canonic writing here is not only important as a hint of the canonic compression of the final movement’s rondo theme at the end of the work, but a hallmark of Pitfield’s style.

The outer two movements of the concerto are brilliant but the composer’s invention, musical charm and beauty show themselves to good effect in the middle movement which has a memorable main theme of some solemnity. Here too is a short, and beautifully written, mysterious scherzo-like section, deftly realized by the soloist.

Moments such as this, along with Anthony Goldstone’s generally sympathetic interpretation, lift the music to a level of inspiration beyond the simply pleasing and tasteful.

The length and form of Piano Concerto No.2 was governed by the restrictions imposed by the commissioner, Max Hinrichsen, who was looking for a miniature concerto for the use of American piano students in performance auditions. The result is a work of very unusual form but the main characteristics are unmistakably Pitfield. A quotation from Milton at the head of the score sums it up well – “… and bring with thee Jest and youthful Jollity”.

Inventiveness is the keynote of this work. The first movement (Dance-Prologue) using three simple tunes on the white keys treated with ostinati, hymn-like harmonization, various rhythms and decoration, is followed by a scherzo (Interlude on White Keys) of running figures and modal melody.

The last movement is curious in that it embodies both the slow movement and the finale presented as a set of variations on the English folksong, ‘The Oak and the Ash’. Here the performers enjoy themselves in the playful rhythms of the first and third variations which are separated by a delightfully contemplative variation scored for piano alone.

Both concertos are recorded with good piano presence and endowed with the rhythmic energy so essential to the composer’s style.

The works for solo piano should not disappoint as Pitfield’s favoured 5/8 and 7/8 rhythms, pianistic decoration and harmonies of almost French flavour, can all be found in his tuneful music. Studies on an English Dance-Tune, written for John McCabe who first performed it whilst still a student at the RMCM in 1961, subjects the folk tune, ‘Jenny Pluck Pears,’ to various rhythmic, modal and playing techniques in seven short movements. Peter Donohoe’s technique and artistry show themselves to good effect in this and the other two works for solo piano included on the disc.

Although an early piece, Arietta and Finale is all one would expect of the composer but it is the Toccata, written for Lucy Pierce and published in 1953, which demands the listener’s attention with its exuberance.

Always looking to the needs of performers, Pitfield often found himself writing for unusual instruments or combinations of instruments when required. His four movement Xylophone Sonata, composed for the Hallé Orchestra’s principal percussionist, Eric Woolliscroft, and superbly executed here by Peter Donohoe, is a work that falls into that category. This lively piece using 7/8 and 10/8 rhythms was published in 1967 and deserves to be heard.

All in all, this collection of works is truly representative of Thomas Pitfield’s output of music for piano. The recording gives much pleasure and, for those who are not already familiar with his music, it is well worth exploring at superbudget price.



-- Stuart Scott, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Piano no 1 by Thomas Pitfield
Performer:  Anthony Goldstone (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 23 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: 1946 - 1947. 
2.
Concerto for Piano no 2 "The Student" by Thomas Pitfield
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958 
Length: 11 Minutes 32 Secs. 
3.
Studies on an English Dance Tune by Thomas Pitfield
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; England 
Length: 4 Minutes 35 Secs. 
4.
Arietta and Finale by Thomas Pitfield
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; England 
5.
Toccata by Thomas Pitfield
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; England 
6.
Xylophone Sonata by Thomas Pitfield
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Xylophone)
Conductor:  Andrew Penny
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Length: 6 Minutes 22 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor: I. Allegro risoluto
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor: II. Grave
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor: III. Allegro gaiamente
Piano Concerto No. 2, "The Student": I. Dance-Prologue
Piano Concerto No. 2, "The Student": II. Interlude on White Keys
Piano Concerto No. 2, "The Student": III. Air and Variations (The Oak and The Ash)
Piano Concerto No. 2, "The Student": IV. Variation 1
Piano Concerto No. 2, "The Student": V. Variation 2
Piano Concerto No. 2, "The Student": VI. Variation 3
Studies on an English Dance Tune: I. Bi-Tonal
Studies on an English Dance Tune: II. Seven-Eight, Dorian
Studies on an English Dance Tune: III. Cantabile Melody
Studies on an English Dance Tune: IV. Major-Minor
Studies on an English Dance Tune: V. Phrygian
Studies on an English Dance Tune: VI. Three-Two-Three
Studies on an English Dance Tune: VII. Octaves
Arietta and Finale: Arietta
Arietta and Finale: Finale
Toccata
Xylophone Sonata: I. Introduction
Xylophone Sonata: II. Intermezzo
Xylophone Sonata: III. Reel
Xylophone Sonata: IV. Toccata

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