I came to the music
of Haydn Wood by way of his Piano Concerto. This may seem
rather strange when one considers that the composer’s most popular
piece is undoubtedly ‘Roses of Picardy.’ Even today
this Great War song is seen as being something of an ‘anthem for
a lost generation’. It is only necessary to look at any CD catalogue
for confirmation – there are some seven versions currently available.
And following as a close second is the song A Brown Bird Singing.
Orchestrally, the London Landmarks Suite is well known
and is played relatively often - especially the march Horse
Guards - Whitehall.
Yet it was Hamish
Milne playing Haydn Wood’s Piano Concerto in D minor
that made me think about this man and his music. It may not
be a ‘masterpiece’ or exhibit pure genius but it is a fine concerto
and makes one feel better about life after hearing it – what more
could you ask for?
And there was another
thing. I often used to take the train from York to Manchester.
Just after Huddersfield the train passed through the town of Slaithwaite
- not pronounced, apparently, as it is spelt. I had learnt that
Haydn Wood had been born in this little town on the Yorkshire
side of the Pennines. Every time the train puffed - or motored,
these days - up the hill to Standege Tunnel I used to spare the
composer a thought. However any notion that his ‘sly shade’ still
haunts these wild moorlands was expelled by finding out that he
moved to the Isle of Man with his parents at an early age. And
the Isle of Man was to be important for the composer in the ensuing
seventy odd years. But a little more of that later.
It was only after
hearing the Piano Concerto that I explored Wood’s music more systematically.
I found the two Marco Polo recordings in a second-hand CD shop
in York. Here were some classic tunes that captured the imagination
– Variations on a Once Popular Song, the ubiquitous but
charming Sketch of a Dandy, the metropolitan London
Cameos, the delightfully named Dance of a Whimsical Elf
and many others. Of course the two potboilers mentioned above
were included. Sadly these two discs appear to have been deleted
from the Naxos/Marco Polo catalogue – so listeners have lost a
fine opportunity to hear over two hours of Haydn Wood’s music.
And lastly there is Philip Scowcroft's
excellent essay on MusicWeb which brought me up to speed with
the composer’s background and achievements.
One of my favourite
pieces on this present CD is the ‘concert waltz’ Joyousness
which has all the charm and panache of the best of light music.
It is the final movement of the Moods Suite – which explores
Dignity, Allurement, Coquetry, Pensiveness,
Felicity and our present feeling of ‘Joy.’ Also recorded is
the Caprice which is, in fact the third movement – Coquetry.
This turns out to be a fine little scherzo. Interestingly, if
we do our sums this suite must add up to nearly half an hour of
music – not far short of a veritable ‘light’ symphony.
There is a nautical
flavour to this disc represented by three works. Firstly the attractive
medley Seafarer: this is in many ways as impressive as
the more famous Sea Songs by another Wood! And of course
Nelson sitting on his Column certainly has a salty
tang to it. Yet the most impressive marine piece has got to be
the unusual and slightly sycophantic Stanford Rhapsody.
Wood was taught by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal
College of Music and this work is ‘a heartfelt tribute’ to the
elder composer. The Stanford enthusiast will not need to be told
that the work derives from the great ‘Songs of the Sea’
thankfully recently released by Chandos [CHSA5043] It is certainly
an attractive way to hear this music – minus, of course, the soloist
and the choir. I prefer the original, I hasten to add – but this
is an enjoyable ‘take’ on what is now probably regarded as a dated
and politically incorrect piece: Drake coming to save the nation
in times of trouble.
Haydn Wood certainly
enjoyed writing marches – and the three presented here are excellent.
I have mentioned Horse Guards – Whitehall which
is definitely ‘marchy,’ – but it is the lesser known Homage
March which appeals to me most. Strangely the programme notes
suggest that the Festival March, written in 1949, is present
on the CD. I initially guessed this from the fact that Guild appears
to italicise all works recorded and print other work references
in normal type. Festival March is in italics – yet I cannot
find it listed as a track – which is a pity. Torch of Freedom
is another ‘grand march’ which was apparently used by radio and
television companies. It is a classic example of a signature tune
for a nineteen-fifties wireless production. It has a lovely ‘trio’
theme which nods to Elgar and everyone else who has ever written
a stirring march.
The Laughing Cavalier
(as opposed to the Laughing Policeman) is a novelty pure
and simple. Nothing profound here – just fun. Yet we often tend
to lose that particular mood in our musical listening.
In a more reflective
frame of mind we have the delicious Longing which is a
little character piece that will remind everyone of what it is/was
like being in love. This is just pure romance – a heart on the
sleeve job. Yet Soliloquy goes deeper: this is almost ‘Delian’
in its soundscape and none the worse for it. It is perhaps my
favourite piece on this CD. Simply gorgeous. The imagery may suggest
a landscape but it is certainly not the Isle of Man: to me it
is a reflection of a summer’s afternoon on the ‘downs.’
the Cities of Romance appeals to me for its exuberance
– and the ‘cinema ‘organ.’ It features Reginald Foort on the Wurlitzer.
Montmartre (Paris Suite) is another little piece
that is pleasant – but somehow does not really remind me of Paris,
France or anywhere else. Where is the Can-Can, for example?
movement from the Frescoes Suite is a good opportunity
for the composer to indulge in an enchanting waltz.
In London we are on
safer ground and each of the three movements of the London
Landscapes hit the target. Nelson (a great hornpipe
here), Tower Hill and Horse Guards – what better
introduction can there be to the pageantry of the great city of
London? And yet there is a wistfulness and even reflectiveness
about some of this music that goes way beyond sheer ‘postcard’
Perhaps the pieces
I am least enthusiastic about are the song arrangements. I positively
dislike the saxophone solo in Roses of Picardy – yet it
may be to someone’s taste. The Bird of Divine Love seems
to be something from the past that perhaps does not strike many
chords these days. And I Hear you Calling is in fact an
arrangement by Haydn Wood of a number by Charles Marshall.
The weightiest piece
on this CD is Mannin Veen. This is well described in the
programme notes by David Ades as being Haydn Wood’s ‘Manx Tone
Poem’. It may not have the depth or profundity of Bax or Strauss
yet here is a work that is certainly worth playing and listening
to. The title means ‘Dear Isle of Man’ and it is exactly the kind
of work I would expect someone who had been brought up on the
island to compose. It could be argued that it is in some ways
a rhapsody – a concatenation of Manx folk tunes – and this may
be true. Yet Haydn Wood uses his material in a way that does not
allow us to hear the work as a patchwork. The transitions between
tunes are virtually seamless. Much of this music is quite moving
but it is never overtly sentimental.
I have only been to
the Isle of Man on a couple of occasions. Yet this work strikes
a chord with me. I recall walking on Spanish Head in the south
of the island one summer’s night. It was nearly dark and we could
see all six kingdoms – Blackpool Tower and the Pleasure Beach,
the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse in Scotland, the glow of Larne
in Ulster, the light off Anglesey and of course the Isle of Man
itself. But then there was the sixth – the Kingdom of Heaven!
– Not to mention anything about the realm of the fairies. All
this magic, I am sure, was in the thoughts of the composer as
he wrote this fine work.
I am not a great enthusiast
of historical recordings – usually because the thought of noise
and scratches tends to put me off. However this is not a problem
on this CD. All these tracks have been beautifully re-mastered
and restored by Alan Bunting. Of course it is obvious that these
are not recent recordings, but there is nothing here to distract
from the enjoyment of the music. Naturally those pieces recorded
post-war tend to be of a better audio quality than those from
the early nineteen-thirties.
Now back to my only
criticism. I do wish that Guild had been able to include entire
‘suites’ as opposed to selections. For example we have extracts
from Moods, Paris, Cities of Romance,
and Frescoes Suites. The London Landmarks Suite
is represented by all three movements – Horse Guards,
Tower Hill and Nelson’s Column. However they do not
follow on in the track-listing, they are not by the same band,
nor in the correct order. I accept that this Suite is available
elsewhere on CD but do wish it was given again here. Any of the
other suites in their entirety would have been great although
I concede that they may not be in the sound archives that were
used to compile this present release.
There are a number
of great bands and orchestras represented here, including the
London Palladium Orchestra, the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra
and the Debroy Somers Band. However pride of place – at least
for historical reasons, must go to the Light Symphony Orchestra’s
versions of Horse Guards – Whitehall, Homage March
and Mannin Veen – all conducted by the composer himself.
A great CD that
captures the spirit of Haydn Wood’s light music. A good introduction
that certainly does not supersede, but complements the deleted
Marco Polo CDs mentioned above. And the bottom line is this
– after listening to this CD you will feel great – the sun will
shine – I promise you!
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf