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Hugh WOOD (b.1932)
Violin Concerto Op. 17 (1972)
Cello Concerto Op. 12 (1969)
Manoug Parikian (violin); Moray Welsh (cello)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Atherton
Recorded: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, July 1978
NMC ANCORA D 082 [53:00]


NMC have enlisted Colin Matthews to provide a foreword introducing this new Ancora series. As he rightly remarks, a new piece of music often receives its first performance (provided it was commissioned), may get a second one and then just disappears. Recordings may follow the first performance but they too may disappear from the catalogue. This may happen for many different reasons, but often because the recording company gets into difficulties of some sort. This is the case with many fine recordings originally released by Unicorn and Collins Classics. Thus Ancora aims at restoring this material on a more permanent basis. The prospect is encouraging since further re-issues includes a good number of pieces by Birtwistle, Casken, Goehr, Holloway, Knussen and many others. Originally these were released many years ago either by Unicorn or Collins. Not only will there be reissues of now inaccessible material. NMC also plan so far feasible to add some hitherto unrecorded work.

One of first releases in this hopefully continuing series brings back two major works by Hugh Wood recorded in 1978 during the LP era and briefly available in CD format, if my memory serves me well.

Though he may regarded primarily as a composer of chamber music and of song cycles, which actually make the bulk of his present output, Wood nevertheless contributed substantially to the symphonic repertoire. I say ‘symphonic’ intentionally because his Cello Concerto Op.12 and his Violin Concerto Op.17 as well as his early Scenes from Comus Op.6 (NMC D 070 reviewed some time last year) are overtly symphonic in scope, and extensively and imaginatively develop some limited basic material in a completely symphonic process, never really absent from the proceedings, though often intricately varied. (To a certain extent, though, his Piano Concerto Op.31 – once available on Collins 20072 [single] – is somewhat more extrovert and, on the whole, more accessible, though Wood is never one to write down to his audience. Hopefully, this will also be re-issued soon.) The symphonic nature of the Cello Concerto Op.12 is clearly emphasised by its single-movement structure unfolding as a massive, tightly argued arch-form (the composer describes it as a large-scale sonata movement) building to some impressive climaxes, though opening in the lowest register of the cello and quietly dying away at the end.

Though in three movements roughly one the now fairly traditional slow-fast-slow pattern, the Violin Concerto Op.17 is also a predominantly symphonic structure (in fact the Scherzo follows attaca on the first movement). The first movement may be considered as a sonata exposition opening and ending quietly, again with some powerful climaxes in between. The Scherzo-with-trio also starts quietly, as if slowly emerging from the tranquil ending of the preceding movement. The third movement ("primarily a simple recapitulation of the first") opens with a long cadenza, out of which the orchestra quietly re-enters. The music progressively reaches the high Bs with which the concerto began, and this might have been the logical conclusion of the work which nevertheless ends "with a touch of flamboyance".

Though the solo parts are quite demanding and taxing, both concertos are first and foremost powerfully expressive, lyrical utterances; for, as I remarked in an earlier review of Wood’s music, he is a born lyricist. His music, no matter how structurally complex it may be, always communicates in convincing terms, which is its most endearing quality.

Moray Welsh and Manoug Parikian, for whom the Violin Concerto was written, are wonderful musicians who deliver committed readings of these beautiful scores that should be heard more often and that will now hopefully remain in the catalogue for many long years. Hugh Wood’s music is simply too good and too honest to be forgotten.

Hubert Culot



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