Philip G.W. HENDERSON (b. 1948)
The Magic Wood, for ten solo strings [19:15]
The Hop-picker’s Daughter, for string quartet [17:35]
The Philip Henderson Ensemble/Philip Henderson
rec. 2010/2011 MBJ Studios, London
PRIVATE CD [36:53]

This CD arrives in a card without notes beyond a running track and some attractive black and white artwork (availability). It houses two string works by Philip G W Henderson. Googling reveals that the composer was a member of the band of the Grenadier Guards in the early 1960s. He has written extensively for stage productions and for the radio, and has had a long running association with Steve Hackett of Genesis. Film has also claimed his interest, and there is indeed something filmic and immediately appealing about both these works.

The Magic Wood is for ten solo strings, and in five brief movements. It was ‘inspired by the woodland that surrounds the composer’s home in Yorkshire’ according to his brief note. One thinks at first that the idiom is akin to, say, Robin Milford, but its freshness soon burgeons into a lissom, rather folk-ish minimalism. By Night has some, some tick-tocking stasis, also hints that Henderson knows his Janáček in the nicely jagged rhythms he employs. His accelerandi are exciting. Dream Dance has quietly musing strings, temolandi acting as a cushion for the turning and twisting folk voicings of the solo string that acts as master of ceremonies in the dream, but hushed intensity and expectation slowly gives way to a more protean power in the strings. Song of the trees shivers and sways, thinning to single voices, sounding rather filmic, whilst After Rainfall opens with flip-flop pizzicato, ending freshly.

There is some Steve Reich-cum-Nyman influence maybe, in the companion work, The Hop-picker’s Daughter, written for string quartet in which we are in ‘a hop field in Kent during the mid-1950s. A little girl befriends a little boy and their afternoon of fun begins ...’ Lyricism is verdant in the first movement, albeit the theme is repeated amongst the voices insistently, though matters are varied timbrally in the B section. The second movement gets off to baroque dance rhythms. The solos embarked on first by viola and then cello are strongly reminiscent of cod-Handelian figures, but there are also calming episodes. The finale is a jolly sectional affair, opening with folk song-like freshness, and gradually we wind down to a final full stop pizzicato. The afternoon narrative is over.

I assume that both works were recently written. I do know that they are both published by Edition Peters.

[Editor’s Note: Mr Henderson wrote the 2005 West End musical, The Far Pavilions]

Jonathan Woolf

Something filmic and immediately appealing about this music.