Philip WOOD (b. 1972)
Sonnets, Airs and Dances: Songs and Chamber Music
Sonnets, Airs and Dances (2005) [17:03]
Five Spring Songs (2011) [9:12]
Two Motets (2004) [4:46]
Partita for recorder and cello (2000) [19:27]
Aria, Recitative and Rondo for counter-tenor and cello (c.2003) [6:46]
A Lonsdale Dance (2007) [3:30]
Concertino for recorder and string quartet (2000) [9:48]
Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), John Turner (recorder), Harvey Davies
(harpsichord), Heather Bills (cello), James Bowman (counter-tenor), Jonathan
Manchester Camerata Ensemble (Richard Howarth (violin),
Julia Hanson (violin), Tom Dunn (viola), Jonathan Price (cello))
rec. St Thomas’ Church, Stockport, 22 June 2015 (Sonnets, Five Spring
Songs, Two Motets, Lonsdale Dance); Worleston Church, Nantwich, 11 June 2004
(Partita, Aria, Recitative and Rondo); ASC Studios, Macclesfield, December
DIVINE ART DDA25131 [71:21]
I began my exploration of this new disc of music by Philip Wood with the
short ‘Lonsdale Dance’ written for unaccompanied descant recorder. The work
carries a subtitle ‘Champêtre’ which implies that a pastoral mood was
intended. The ‘Lonsdale’ in question is located in Westmorland and was once
described by John Ruskin as having ‘moorland hill, and sweet river and
English forest foliage … at their best.’ The Dance, which is conceived in
two contrasting sections was written to explore the resources of the
recorder and display John Turner’s virtuosity: it succeeds on both counts.
Lonsdale Dance’ is dedicated to Lady Caroline, the then Dowager Countess of
I moved on to what is probably the most significant piece on this CD, the
Concertino for recorder and string quartet. This work was composed some 15
years ago for the present players and was first performed at a Royal
Northern College of Music concert in that year. The Concertino is in two
movements — I could have wished for a third — and presents some involved
passage-work for soloist and quartet. The opening movement is dark and
lugubrious (muted strings) with reflective playing on the treble recorder.
However, the second movement livens things up considerably with a change of
instrument to descant recorder with spiky, aggressive music from all the
players. There are some interesting tonal effects from the soloist.
Altogether an enjoyable and approachable work that deserves a place in the
concerted recorder repertoire.
I then chose to explore the ‘Five Spring Songs’ which are settings of a
wide range of poets including W.E. Henley, Christina Rossetti, Henry
Vaughan, George Peele and ‘Anon’. These were written in 2011 as a birthday
gift for Wood’s composer and friend Nicolas Marshall. The songs were
designed to reflect ‘nature, birdsong and youth’ rather than ‘age and
advancing years’. I enjoyed the interesting combination of recorder, cello
and harpsichord supporting the stunning soprano voice of Lesley-Jane Rogers.
These songs have no sense of ‘antique parody’, in fact, this particular
ensemble has the effect of making them timeless. The choice of poems is
imaginative: I especially relished Peele’s ‘When as the Eye’, with its
‘strawberries swimming in the cream …’ made famous in Benjamin Britten’s
The Partita for recorder and cello is a ‘pick and mix of character pieces’
composed once again for John Turner. The key elements of this suite are the
evocations of dawn (Aubade) and nightfall (Nocturne). The one is ‘full of
noises, strange sounds’ as the birds perform their reveille and the
other is dark and introverted. The birds in this movement have something of
the night about them. Other pieces include a short, doleful chaconne, a
dynamic capriccio and a rumbustious ‘moto perpetuo’. The Partita was
premiered in 2003 as a part of the Salford Mayfest.
The Two Motets were written for solo soprano with no accompaniment. They
are settings of the well-loved liturgical texts ‘Ave verum corpus’ and ‘Ave
Maria’. There is a simplicity here that is both moving and inspirational.
They are beautifully sung by Lesley-Ann Rogers.
The CD opens with what is the most ‘substantial’ of the three song-cycles
presented here. ‘Sonnets, Airs and Dances’ has six movements and is given
the form of a masque or renaissance cantata. The singer is accompanied by
the recorder and harpsichord. The verses chosen are diverse and include John
Donne’s frankly depressing ‘O my blacke Soule’ which is presented in
declamatory style with no accompaniment. This is followed by a quirky little
forlane for instrumentalists alone. The mood is lightened by the anonymous
‘Come away, sweet Love’ for all the soloists and ‘Now is my Chloris fresh as
May’. Once again, the mood changes with a charming ‘Sarabande’ for recorder
and harpsichord. The ‘cantata’ closes with John Keats’ meditation on sleep,
‘O soft embalmer of the still midnight’. This is an important work that
defies stylistic categorisation: it is ageless in its impact.
The Aria, Recitative and Rondo for counter-tenor and cello was expressly
written for the fine counter-tenor James Bowman. Wood writes that they are
‘in essence three love songs and explore youthful love, sensual love and the
more bawdy aspects of lust, respectively.’ It includes poems by Arnault
Daniel, a 13th
century troubadour, a ‘Riddle’ by Adrian Mitchell
and a bit of macaronic Latin by John O’Keefe. This significant work is
ideally suited to Bowman’s fabulous voice.
A word about the composer. Philip Wood was born near Leeds in 1972 and
studied Music and Drama in Northampton and later at Leeds University. In
2003, he was awarded a Ph.D. in composition. Over the years he has received
many commissions for a wide variety of works including orchestral, choral,
chamber and instrumental. Influences include ‘a passion for British music’
with ‘mainstream’ figures such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst,
William Walton and Malcolm Arnold. He also owes a debt to ‘lesser known
names’ including William Alwyn, Bernard Stevens, Edmund Rubbra, Alan
Rawsthorne and Arnold Cooke. A dominant influence on his word-setting is
The liner-notes written by the composer are necessary reading and include
details of each work. Texts of all the vocal numbers have been included.
Brief notices are given of the musicians and Wood himself.
The sound quality of this Divine Art disc is clear and vibrant. The
playing by all the performers is, as would be expected, absolutely splendid.
Special commendation goes to John Turner’s superb recorder playing and
Lesley-Jane Rogers’ delightful soprano voice.
Philip Wood indicates that this album is a ‘cross-section of songs and
chamber music written over an eleven year period.’ Most of these pieces have
been written as a ‘special gift’ or a ‘gesture of thanks or goodwill’.
Perhaps the dominant figure in all this is ‘John Turner, [who] as well as
his enthusiasm, encouragement and passion for music-making … has made this
recording possible.’ It is a sentiment with which all listeners will readily