I must confess that Pamela Harrison (1915-1990) is a new name to me and that is exactly the reason why music by 20th Century women composers needs the efforts of groups like the Gould Piano Trio and their supporting colleagues. Overlooked, because she was a woman, is a common thread throughout the history of music. But what about the quality of the music you ask?
I admit, I was expecting something approaching the salon, perhaps a modern-day Chaminade, but I’m tarred with a similar brush to many before me, except now to express my delight in making the acquaintance of this fascinating and skilful composer.
I advise that you discover this music chronologically as in the booklet essay, and not as recorded. You start with the Sonatina for Viola and Piano (1949) and like the Piano Trio (1966) and the Quintet for clarinet and strings (1956) it is the middle movement which is the emotional heart of the work, these are often longer than the faster outer ones combined. Harrison had a genuine gift for lyrical, memorable lines with harmonies often built around fourths or whole tones or modality. The finales of these three works are Allegro molto e agitato which ends the feisty Quintet, a Presto con agilitá closing the Sonatina, and an Animato closing the Piano Trio. This latter work, whose opening material is strongly related to the opening of the Clarinet Quintet is, for me, the standout work on the disc and should be played and much better known.
These witty finales, and this sense of fun can be heard in one of the slighter pieces recorded here, the Faggot Dance for (yes you’ve guessed it) bassoon and piano with its happy interplay of irregular rhythms. But more serious and nostalgic is Drifting Away for clarinet and piano, a work played at a Service of Thanksgiving for the composer’s life by Jack Brymer, a firm friend, after her tragic death in a car accident. The Clarinet features again in the three-movement Sonata written for Jack Brymer. The first movement is quite ‘gritty’ using some bitonality, the middle movement being slow and elegiac and the final Allegro marcato a study in various ostinati.
The disc is rounded off by two short works for cello and piano, Sonnet, and Idle Dan both charmingly lyrical and pastoral.
And these, like everything on this beautifully recorded and well-filled CD is clearly played with great affection and understanding by all concerned. A disc to bring fascination and much joy.