Here are two sturdy British violin concertos written some sixty years apart. Sainsbury was born one year before the death of Haydn Wood. You might have expected the styles of the two concertos to be dramatic but while differences are there they are not as marked as you might expect.
Lionel Sainsbury wrote the most recent work and also the most substantial. Sainsbury was born in Wiltshire. His instrument is the piano. He studied composition with Patrick Standford. I am particular intrigued by his intriguingly titled orchestral tone poem Time of the Comet.
The chamber music includes various miniatures plus a full blown Violin Sonata. There’s a cello concerto. He is no stranger to MusicWeb reviews and both his orchestral Cuban Dance No. 2
and his Two Nocturnes
have figured in compendia of small British pieces. His mastery of the piano solo
bodes well for a piano concerto if ever he felt moved in that direction.
For now we have Sainsbury’s big-boned and generous-hearted 1989 Violin Concerto from the same forces who premiered it in a BBC Studio in 1995. It is in three movements. The first is an Allegro
which launches with a chugging figure that quickly captures the imagination. The movement is Elgarian yet interlaced with Tippett-like motifs and the sort of nervy energy often associated with Constant Lambert. It sounds uncannily like the Walton concerto at 7:00. The central Andante mesto
is touchingly tender and romantic in the manner of the Barber and Korngold yet spliced with the contemplative peace of Finzi’s Introit
. The finale is an Allegro molto
. This moves through episodes of rustling euphoria, marcato energy, stirring power (5:23 in tr 3 III), those Tippett-like cross-rhythms (returning at 12:20). Sainsbury has the faculty of writing music that accelerates with ineluctable passionate logic out of stilled contemplative pastures into triumph. The concerto ends with a husky reminiscence at 14:56 and moves onwards through a moment of Lark transcendence to a roughened and abrupt regal command over which the violin sears its way ever upwards. It’s a treasurable and magnificent work which loses nothing by being written in an idiom listeners will quickly recognise.
Haydn Wood was born in Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield on 25 March 1882. His claim to fame rested on the popular song Roses of Picardy
(1916) one of many popular ballads he produced for his wife Clara Dorothy Court. He was named after Josef Haydn although he pronounced his name as in HAYdn. The family moved to the Isle of Man when Haydn was aged two. Wood studied the violin, initially with his brother Harry; another brother, Daniel, was a well known flautist who became one of the founders of the LSO. He then went to the RCM as a pupil of Stanford (composition) and Arbós (violin) for six years. He later studied with César Thomson in Brussels. He died in London on 11 March 1959.
He produced a prodigious amount of light orchestral music including fifteen suites, eight overtures and forty smaller works and pieces for orchestra. Lesser known sections of his catalogue feature a Phantasy String Quartet which won the Cobbett Second Prize in the first competition. There are four works for chorus and orchestra including Lochinvar
(pre-1924, setting Scott's ‘Marmion’) and The Little Ships
(1940, Dunkirk). Concertante works were not ignored. There are a Piano Concerto in D minor
and the Philharmonic Variations - Theme and Variations
for cello and orchestra premiered on 21 December 1939. Each has been recorded.
Haydn Wood was a violinist whose artistry impressed both Joachim and Sarasate. He made his début as a child violinist in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in a concert in Douglas on the Isle of Man. His Violin Concerto in A minor (1928) was premiered by Antonio Brosa with the BBCSO conducted by Joseph Lewis on 1 March 1933. Even in 1928 the concerto was written against the fashionable direction of flow. The romantic idiom was in recession – rumoured by some to be dead - and a more neo-classical or jazzy style was in the ascendant. It’s a delightful work in three movements. The Allegro Moderato
presents a very fluent stream of molten gold much in the manner of the Elgar concerto; perhaps a touch of the Miaskovsky. The Andante sostenuto
is dreamy confection: Delius on the one hand and the Barber on the other. It’s caramel smooth and sweet. The finale is an Allegro giocoso
which is all chuckling virtuosity and cheery good company. There’s impudence as well and an optimistic delight in virtuosity. The work ends sumptuously in a show-time sunburst. The isolated Adagio
from the Violin Concerto in B minor (1905) is a sweet singer indeed – a thing of soothing calm. How superbly Haydn Wood weights and paces his music.
Throughout, Lorraine McAslan projects a real generosity of sound approaching the luxurious lava flow of tone I last encountered when Listening to Anne Sophie Mutter’s DG recording
of the Korngold Concerto. She is the favoured choice over the two other versions of the Coleridge-Taylor
concerto for much the same reason.
This disc shares the hard-won success of another Dutton collection of English violin concertos
It’s strongly documented as befits two strong works written in captivating idioms that while not identical have more in common than you might expect.