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Adept and sympathetic

Gramophone, Richard Whitehouse

Although it has never been forgotten, the music of Pamela Harrison (1915 90) has received few recordings, and those who have heard her Viola Sonata or string-orchestral A Suite for Timothy will surely welcome this first release to be devoted to her music.

It makes sense to open with the Clarinet Quintet (1956), one of her most substantial and closely argued instrumental works, with an eloquently sustained Lento that throws into relief those tersely impulsive Allegros either side. Slighter in scale, the Violin Sonatina (1945) centres on an Andante whose circumspection ably complements its purposeful initial Allegro and quixotic final Presto. By contrast, the Clarinet Sonata (1953) puts greatest emphasis on its ominous opening Andante, followed by a pensive ‘song without words’ Lento and an Allegro of heady rhythmic verve. The most personal among these multi-movement pieces, the Piano Trio (1966) unfolds from its forthright Moderato, via a superbly wrought Lento of real emotional depth, to an Animato that rounds off the whole in effervescent fashion.

Among the shorter items, Sonnet (1962) exudes an appealing rumination and Faggot Dance (1963) is an engaging whimsy for all its brevity. Idle Dan (1959) would make for a winsome encore, as too the limpid pathos of Drifting Away (1974) that here provides a touching envoi.

The performances are adept and sympathetic and the sound and annotations are up to Resonus’s customary high standards.

More than enough chamber music remains for at least one follow-up volume (a full catalogue can be found at pamelaharrisoncomposer.co.uk), and I am looking forward to hearing more from Harrison, whose unforced and highly approachable idiom encapsulates the poise and understatement of a bygone era.

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21/07/2024