Music For All Seasons

The good people at Divine Art Recordings just sent in a musical care package eminently suited to calm some of our troubled minds so overloaded with the noise emanating these days from our TV sets. I turned off CCN and put on Sonnets, Airs and Dances (dda 25131) of instrumental and vocal music by a most gifted composer heretofore unknown to me: Philip Wood.

The neatly-packaged CD has 24 tracks, and a running time of 71 minutes of sheer delight. It was recorded at different times, though it credits one sound engineer, Richard Scott, to whom I tip my hat for utterly clear, undistorted, intimately comforting sound.

Sonnets, Airs and Dances is a short cycle of four songs for soprano, harpsichord and recorder, set to poetry by Donne, Keats and some of their contemporaries, and interspersed by two instrumental pieces: a Furlana and a Sarabande . Of the six pieces, the unaccompanied O my Blacke Soule is a stunner.

Five Spring Songs adds cello to the recorder, harpsichord, soprano ensemble and salutes in a pantheistic way Spring and Youth in a short set of settings by English poets. Two Motets for solo soprano are lovely settings of Latin texts from the Common Book of Prayer ( sic : actually the Roman liturgy ) Ave Maria and Ave verum corpus . The Partita for Recorder and Cello explores the unlikely pairing with felicitous results.

Countertenor James Bowman commands our attention with the multi-lingual Aria, Recitative and Rondo, accompanied by cellist, Jonathan Price. This is a most theatrical piece that riffs on love spiritual and carnal providing a perfect vehicle for Bowman’s velvety countertenor. After the instrumental for solo recorder, A Lonsdale Dance , the CD ends with a two-movement Concertino for Recorder and String Quartet. Both are light-hearted pieces d’occasion rife with inventiveness.

Composer Wood and his eclectic instrumental and vocal forces – soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers, John Turner, recorder, Harvey Davies, harpsichord, Heather Bills and Jonathan Price, cellists, and countertenor James Bowman who make up the Manchester Camerata Ensemble* provide a most pleasurable listening experience. The six musicians serve this beautiful music with a neat mix of flair and accuracy coupled to that elusive style so difficult to imitate, so impossible to pin down, so quintessentially English.

—Rafael de Acha