In his notes on the music presented on this CD Philip Wood (b. 1972) acknowledges a passion for British music and the influence, not only of some of its mainstream composers, but also some lesser known names, such as Alwyn, Rubbra, Rawsthorne and Arnold Cooke, all of whom it should be noted wrote for the recorder. These influences are apparent in his music, but his own characteristic musical language is ever present, especially in his writing for the voice.
It is with the song cycle Sonnets, Airs and Dances , composed in 2005, that the programme opens. Scored for soprano voice, recorder and harpsichord, it follows an arch pattern, opening and closing with sonnet settings. That with which it begins is a most effective setting for solo voice of Oh, my blacke Soule , one of the most intense of John Donne’s Divine Meditations . The closing sonnet, setting Keats’s O soft embalmer of the still midnight , is for the full ensemble, the poet’s reverie expressed with gentle calm. Two anonymous poems, the light-hearted Come away, come, sweet Love! and the more enigmatic Now is my Chloris fresh as May form the vocal centrepiece and are framed by two purely instrumental dances, a lively Forlane and a more gentle Sarabande. The whole cycle covers a variety of moods and musical textures in a very satisfyingly masque-like structure.
A cello is added to the scoring of Five Spring Songs (2011) setting the anonymous The ‘Happy’ Cuckoo and poems by W E Henley, Christina Rossetti, Henry Vaughan and George Peele. With the exception of Peele’s When as the rye birds feature in all the texts and provide an opportunity for one of the recorder’s oldest associations. Again the vocal writing is lyrical and the accompanying ensemble provides a subtle expressiveness that underpins the atmosphere of each song.
Wood’s remarkable writing for unaccompanied voice is especially evident in his Two Motets for soprano (2004). The very familiar texts of Ave verum corpus and Ave Maria are set with a devotional simplicity of great beauty.
The five movements of the Partita for recorder and cello (2000), though containing a very effective and at the same time brooding Chacony , are far removed from the baroque in character, and again infused with Wood’s lyricism, especially in the opening Aubade and the fourth movement Nocturne . The Capriccio and concluding Moto perpetuo are more energetic and virtuosic; the entire work is underpinned by the very natural and idiomatic writing for both instruments.
The cello is again the accompanying instrument in Aria, Recitative and Rondo for countertenor and cello. The text of the opening Aria is attributed to the 13th-century troubadour Arnault Daniel, while the Recitative and Rondo set texts by Adrian Michell and John O’Keefe respectively. The short cycle is therefore formed of three love songs, and the vocal qualities of the cello form a very effective duo with the countertenor voice in capturing the themes of youthful love, sensual love and the more bawdy aspects of lust!
A Lonsdale Dance (Dance Champêtre) for solo recorder (2007) is an evocative miniature in two short sections, the first cadenza-like, the second more rhythmically emphatic and virtuosic. The composer notes that he also wished to demonstrate the recorder’s versatility, which the piece does very successfully.
The programme closes with Wood’s Concertino for recorder and string quartet (2000). Though its two movements, an expressive Adagio non troppo for treble, and a scampering Allegro con brio for descant, occupy a little under ten minutes, the conciseness of form and structure, and indeed contrast, make this a very rewarding work for listeners and players alike. It is a significant contribution to the ever growing repertoire for recorder and string quartet explored by some of the composers writing for Carl Dolmetsch in the 1950s, a scoring he was keen to encourage, along with the recorder in contemporary chamber music generally.
Philip Wood is a composer who displays his craft and inspiration in music of considerable appeal; the musicians on this CD are clearly at one with his musical creativity, and give fine performances of considerable insight and commitment – highly recommended.