Philip Wood: Sonnets, Airs and Dances: Songs and Chamber Music

review wood x1 cong

We’ve played this over and over but we can’t, sad to say, find an angle to hang a review on.

It’s 24 tracks and Wood has gathered 11 years’ worth of composition; all the pieces were gifts or gestures of goodwill towards people he knows. Maybe that’s the reason it never takes off; all the tracks have a certain low-key sobriety about them. We tried telling ourselves they were gentle and pastoral but we couldn’t get past the fact it’s just a bit slow. If it was a film score, it would be as the main character trudged slowly over a bog in drizzle, during the Middle Ages so no waterproofs, while giving a narration on the essential futility of life.

Mr Wood is a talented chap: a composer and teacher based in Cumbria, he has degrees in music from Northampton and Leeds. During the early part of his career he received encouragement from Sir Malcolm Arnold and does work for the Arnold Society.

It starts well, with Sonnets Airs and Dances featuring soprano, recorder and harpsichord. It opens with just the voice and promises an atmospheric album to come. Wood says in the notes he was inspired by work including Donne’s O My Blacke Soul!, in which the poet faces his own death with lines such as “Oh my black Soule!/Now thou art summoned/By sicknesse, death’s herald, and champion”. Wood also mentions Keats’s To Sleep (“O soft embalmer of the still midnight/Shutting, with careful fingers and benign/Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light/Enshaded in forgetfulness divine.”)

The Sonnets are followed by Five Spring Songs, written for composer Nicholas Marshall, in which Mr Wood apparently wanted to avoid doing a Donne and giving his friend a memento mori so chose to write about birdsong and youth. The former can clearly be heard in the recorder but there is still the feel of a quiet room with dust motes floating in the winter sun.

That’s about the tone of the album. It’s a bit gloomy and if he’d called it Memento Mori — The Grim Reaper’s Just Round the Corner we’d have known what to expect. On the plus side, a setting of Ave Maria is lovely, powerful and calm, and medieval in feel.

To be fair to Mr Wood, the cover matches the mood. If you like the recorder and appreciate quality playing, you will find much to admire (A Lonsdale Dance is impressive). If you find gothic levels of gloominess a tonic after a hard day, you will appreciate the general atmosphere. It’s out now on Divine Art, DDA25131.

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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