Michael Head's The Estuary 'The most perfect depiction of a river I've ever heard,' says Thomas Allen
Last night, Sir Thomas Allen described "The Estuary," one of six song setting of poems by Ruth Pitter (1897-1992) by Michael Head (1900-1976) as 'The most perfect depiction of a river I've ever heard."
I had never heard the song, published in 1945, before, and found the interpretation enchanting.
When I got home last night, I did a bit of research and discovered that there's only one recording of it in existence in current CD catalogues: a 2002 EMI CD (no. 208285) with Jonathan Lemalu and pianist Roger Vignoles.
There isn't a hint of it on YouTube or anywhere else where I'd be able to plunder a copy to share here.
There's little of anything available from this prolific composer, who wrote in a spare, tonal style stuck somewhere at the turn of the 20th century.
I thought I'd reproduce "The Estuary" poem anyway, just because it's so right for a beautiful summer's day. A bit earlier in the recital, Alen had suggested Frank Bridge's 1911 four-movement orchestral suite, The Sea as a must-listen. So, to accompany the verse, here is conductor Sir Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales from a 2002 Chandos CD (no. 10012).
The Estuary, by Ruth Pitter:
Light, stillness and peace lie on the broad sands,
On the salt-marshes the sleep of the afternoon.
The sky's immaculate; the horizon stands
Steadfast, level and clear over the dune.
There are voices of children, musical and thin
Not far, nor near, there in the sandy hills;
As the fight begins to wane, so the tide comes in,
The shallow creek at our feet silently fills:
And silently, like sleep to the weary mind,
Silently, like the evening after the day,
The big ship bears inshore with the inshore wind,
Changes her course, and comes on up through the bay,
Rolling along the fair deep channel she knows,
Surging along, right on top of the tide.
I can see the flowery wreath of foam at the bows,
The long bright wash streaming away from her side:
I can see the flashing gulls that follow her in,
Screaming and tumbling, like children wildly at play,
The sea-born crescent arising, pallid and thin,
The flat safe twilight shore shelving away.
Whether remembered or dreamed, read of or told,
So it has dwelt with me, so it shall dwell with me ever:
The brave ship coming home like a lamb to the fold,
Home with the tide into the mighty river.
This final video clip includes a personal favourite that Allen put on his programme last night: "My Own Country," the last of "Three (Hilaire) Belloc Songs," from 1927, by Peter Warlock, as sung by Benjamin Luxon (it's the third of the first three songs on this clip).