Harrison chamber RES10313

Pamela Harrison (1915-1990)
Quintet for clarinet and strings (1956)
Sonnet for cello and piano (1963)
Violin Sonatina (1949)
Faggot Dance for bassoon and piano (1963)
Clarinet Sonata (1954)
Idle Dan for cello and piano (1959)
Piano Trio (1967)
Drifting Away for clarinet and piano (1978)
Gould Piano Trio
Robert Plane (clarinet); Florence Plane (bassoon); David Adams (violin); Gary Pomeroy (viola)
rec. 2022, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff
Resonus RES10313 [71]

English 20th century composer Pamela Harrison was born in Orpington and was an RCM student of Gordon Jacob and Arthur Benjamin. She was the wife (divorced in 1959) of the cellist Harvey Phillips, whose eponymous orchestra often broadcast on the Third Programme. She lived on the North Downs, Dartmoor and then Castle Cary.

Harrison’s compositions were modest in number and although there are song and orchestral digressions, her works were preponderantly concentrated in chamber music pastures. The symphonic poem, Evocation of the Weald, and Brimstone Down for small orchestra are notable titles and were there any justice would be lined up for the next Gamba/Chandos project alongside miniatures by Baines, Braithwaite, Spain-Dunk and Howell. That aside, chamber music is the very field which Resonus now tills.

The Clarinet Quintet – first performed by Jack Brymer with the Hirsch quartet – is a thing of irrepressible songfulness. Harrison marries this with episodes driven with urgency and disrupted by jazzy cross-currents. This latter quality alternates with calm in an ebb-and-flow pattern. The middle movement is typically elegiac but with an ascending intensity. It is longer than other two put together and forms the coping stone for this quarter-hour work. The finale radiates a poignant Finzi-like joie de vivre.

The Sonnet is, like a few other works here, very short and is a peaceful ‘haiku’. The notes tell us that this is a love song; if so, it is a love that is generous, and does not possess or cajole. The Violin Sonatina variously dances, shivers with a knowledge of the ephemeral nature of life and is devoid of nostalgia. On the contrary, it is instinct with recollection of the loss of years part. The finale is almost twice as long as II and III together. It has a quick pace and a calypso-like rolling gait. Faggot Dance is another short jewel of a piece for flowingly Poulenc-like bassoon. It is not at all long-winded; even short pieces can be long-winded.

The Clarinet Sonata (1953) was said to be ‘gritty’; again, it’s associated with Jack Brymer. This three-movement work is played with feeling, the piano seeming to cry out. The finale is one of cartwheeling urgency which has, as a counter-balance, the lyric voice that is the natural province of the clarinet. Drifting away – an outlier, first performed in 1975, was also associated with Brymer. It is bound up in Yeats’ line “All that’s beautiful drifts away like the waters”. The brief sketch Idle Dan for cello and piano, is more of a glance than a mood picture; a breeze-blown doze in a hammock. The Piano Trio – again in three movements – is a work of light touch nostalgia. The listener will experience a seething Howellsian lyricism and a finale that evokes ringing bells with as much impact as Vaughan Williams’ “Noisy bells” and the clangour that rounds out, in tear-stained triumph, the finale of Falla’s El Amor Brujo.

Recordings of Harrison’s music have not been numerous but the Viola Sonata has attracted attention: MSR and ASV. Her Suite for Timothy (her son and written on his first birthday; the present recording is dedicated to the memory of Timothy Phillips) takes its place in Volume 5 of the Naxos “English String Miniatures” series. Her handful of settings for tenor and strings were another fixture on the Third Programme in the ’fifties. The latest of these was her remarkable cycle The Dark Forest which was broadcast by Ian Partridge in 1979 and in the fifties by Wilfred Brown.

The booklet essay (English only) is by Robert Plane. As we have come to expect from Resonus, both the performers and the recording quality are of the top rank. This disc offers a welcome embrace to the listener and seeker after the higher reaches of art in English music.

Rob Barnett

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music