Saturday, 20 November 2010

Thomas Baron Pitfield: Three Nautical Sketches

Thomas Pitfield (1903-1999) is an unjustifiably forgotten composer. A brief glance at the Arkiv catalogue shows a mere eight CDs with music by Pitfield with only one consisting entirely of his music. Perhaps his biggest problem was the vast amount of music that he composed? It is almost impossible to imagine any more than a fraction of it being taken up by even the most enterprising and sympathetic recording company.
However, one little work that recently caught my eye is the Three Nautical Sketches for recorder and string orchestra, which has recently been released by Naxos. This is definitely entry level to the composer and well deserves study.
The Sketches were composed in 1982 for a concert of maritime music at the great Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. John Turner has noted that other works given their premiere at that concert included pieces by Gordon Crosse and William Alwyn. The work was originally for recorder and piano, however it scored for strings by the composer.
Pitfield was very fond of folk music on general and sea shanty’s in particular, so it is hardly surprising that he chose to weave these beautiful and often poignant tunes into his music. John Turner notes that the first movement is a ‘quodlibet’ on 'The Three Mariners' and 'Donkey Riding'. This is a musical process where a number of tunes are given in counterpoint with a certain degree of whimsicality and humour. The second is a deeply felt meditation on Tom Bowling. The finale is a take on the Northumberland tune the 'Keel Row'. However the composer makes this into an exuberant Keel Reel!

Thomas Pitfield’s Three Nautical Sketches is available on Naxos 8.572503. It was originally released on the Olympia label in 2000.

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