May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Joseph HOLBROOKE Piano Concerto No. 1 `The Song of Gwyn ap Nudd' 

Haydn WOOD Piano Concerto in D minor (first recording)   Hamish Milne (piano) BBC Scottish Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins.    Hyperion CDA67127 [69:19]

This album could almost qualify to be included in `If Only They Had Written for Films...' for Joseph Holbrooke's Piano Concerto No. 1 `The Song of Gwyn ap Nudd' sounds very much like a film score. Indeed, Lewis Foreman, in his perceptive notes, remarks that Holbrooke's music, in covering the changing scenes of the narrative of the Welsh legend as retold by Lord Howard de Walden (T E Ellis), "almost anticipates `cross-cutting as in the cinema." The story of the poem is about risen spirits, Gwyn ap Nudd the King of the Faerie and his rival Gwythyr ap Greidawl, who are condemned to battle over the fair Cordelia on the night of the first of May every year. (It brings to mind the recent film SleepyHollow based on the story of Washington Irving)

Holbrooke's music is linked to the text in the booklet by a series of 22 cues so that one can follow the story line-by-line through its musical evocations. The first movement covers the rising and arming of Gwyn ap Nudd and there is reference to the reason for his warring - the fair Cordelia. Holbrooke's music is dramatic, even melodramatic and very much in the red-blooded late Romantic tradition with heavily atmospheric misty moonlight and woodlands music; and material suggesting medieval chivalry and combat, contrasted with a broad romantic melody associated with Cordelia that Max Steiner would not have sniffed at. The second movement, associated with phantom memories of Cordelia begins with mordant horn calls answered by muted strings to give the music a spectral, twilight quality. The music then lightens to become almost salon music and assumes the style of a waltz before the movement ends with darker elements announcing the combat that is furious indeed. It dies away as dawn approaches and the combatants retreat until another year's summons and we hear a reprise of much of the foregoing material culminating in an exultant rendering of the Cordelia theme (quite Rachmaninov-like), the Sing of Gwyn ap Nudd!

The Haydn Wood Concerto comes as something of a surprise too - one is so used to thinking of Wood in terms of light music and categorising him as the leader in this genre together with Eric Coates and Montague Philips. His Concerto is a very considerable work of some 33 minutes duration. It has great power; watch your floorboards quiver! Again one could consider its passionate, romantic language very suitable for the screen. Why British studios overlooked it, is a mystery - it would have been perfect for one of those Gainsborough films of the 1940s. The opening movement begins very dramatically but there is also music of grace and tenderness. The influence of the Russian romantics is apparent - especially Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov - in the glorious romantic melodies of the opening movement. The second movement is ushered in by muted strings in contemplative mood with the piano embroidering their wistfulness. This is autumnal music of melancholy nostalgia and regret. The Finale returns to the more overt drama and romance of the opening movement. And again there is a big romantic tune to appeal to film producers. The whole work offers an opportunity for pianists to display their virtuosity and Hamish Milne grasps it with both hands. Haydn Wood was also an accomplished orchestrator; he does not forget to write interesting material for each section of the orchestra and the BBC Scottish Orchestra respond warmly with a truly committed performance.

Unhesitatingly recommended.


Ian Lace



Ian Lace

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