Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor
Piano Concerto No.2
Studies on an English Dance-Tune
Arietta and Finale
Anthony Goldstone (piano)
Peter Donohoe (piano / xylophone)
Royal Northern College of Music Orchestra
Recorded between 6-8 December 2003 in the Brown Shipley Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2005
CD No: NAXOS 8.557291
Duration: 55 minutes
Bolton-born Thomas Pitfield (1903-99) was always an artistic person; and if not continually involved in music – partly due to family pressures and practical needs – he was habitually creative. Steadily, his musical prowess – as a composer, pianist and teacher – was recognised in professional terms. It seems that he then enjoyed “a long and happy retirement” and was able, even into his ‘nineties, to remain artistically active.
This Naxos release is very welcome, for it presents music that is at once attractive and individual; and, most importantly, that one wants to hear again. Melodic, folksy and imaginative, Thomas Pitfield deserves the wider attention that this issue should help find.
Piano Concerto No.1, first heard in 1949, immediately presents music of personality and ingenuity, with, in the first movement, references (deliberate?) to Stravinsky’s Capriccio and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. The slow movement, which is nominally marked ‘Grave’, is actually quite diverse and ranges from wit to pathos. The finale is as fresh as a spring day; happy music! Anthony Goldstone is the sympathetic soloist.
This Pitfield release is part of Naxos’s “British Piano Concertos” series, which is so closely linked to Peter Donohoe. He plays the remainder of the works included here. The brief Concerto No.2 (published in 1960, but with no record of a formal premiere, given it seems to have been written as a ‘set’ 10-minute concerto for American piano students) is light and skittish, and the finale is a set of Variations on a beautiful slow folksong, “The Oak and The Ash”.
The remaining pieces are for solo piano. The ‘study’ element of the English Dance-Tune work (from 1961, and written for a student of Pitfield’s, one John McCabe) never intrudes on some pithy invention, each section lasting less than a minute. Arietta and Finale (1932) enjoys some plush harmonies, and the Toccata (1953) is a whirlwind showpiece, appreciably relished by Donohoe. And it’s Donohoe who also proves a virtuoso of the xylophone in the four-movement sonata that Pitfield wrote in 1987 for Eric Woolliscroft of the Hallé Orchestra; simple music that also has a delightful unpredictability.
Mention of the Hallé begs a request for a second disc of Pitfield’s music, not least the Sinfonietta that Barbirolli commissioned.
Meanwhile this release of very likeable and thoughtfully crafted music is heartily recommended. Good that it should feature the Orchestra of the RNCM, for it was here that Pitfield taught for nearly thirty years.