HUGH WOOD Overture for Piano Trio. Variations for Viola and Piano. Paraphrase on Bird of Paradise. Poem for Violin and Piano, Clarinet Trio. Piano Trio • Paul Silverthorne (vn); Roger Heaton (cl); London Archduke Tr • TOCCATA 0075 (79:31)
Hugh Wood’s chamber music has a definite relationship to that of Arnold Schoenberg. I also hear shades of both Anton Webern and Alban Berg in it. Of his Variations for Viola and Piano, op. 1, Wood writes that whenRead more he discovered the music of Schoenberg and his pupils in 1957, he knew that they would show him the way forward in composition. “The revelation was primarily an emotional experience for me, and however imperfectly their influence was received, it was obviously reflected in the all-out chromaticism,…in the many chains of twelve notes, or lesser chromatic formations…in the characteristic harmonic and rhythmic formations, the wide and sometimes angular intervals of the melodies, and in general, the introverted romanticism.” From that time on he knew what he wanted to write. Even when tastes began to change, he continued to write in the same manner. His Piano Trio, op. 24, first heard in 1984, begins with angular jumps and sharply fragmented layers of dissonance that eventually resolve into smooth and pleasant sounding textures. You hear the beginning of a Habanera rhythm that never totally materializes. Wood always gives you mirages to chase. You think you know what will come next, but he fools you with unexpected sonorities. The works on this disc are all well constructed in his unique approach to chromaticism, and they are played most expressively by violist Paul Silverthorne, clarinetist Roger Heaton, violinist Nathaniel Vallois, cellist Gabriella Swallow, and pianist Charles Wiffen. The latter three are members of the London Archduke Trio. Wood’s music, although smoothly textured for the most part, has unexpectedly strong rhythms and an occasional expressionistic outburst. These artists handle it all with great finesse.
The Paraphrase on Bird of Paradise for Clarinet and Piano is based on a song Wood wrote to words by Robert Graves. The original text is from Graves’s Man Does, Woman Is, which contains a description of the mating dance of the bird whose emerald plumage is said to be spotted with gold. Here the clarinet plays the vocal part. Some of the music at the beginning reminded me of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird. With this piece, which he completed in 1983, Wood began to find his own way and his compositions show fewer outside influences. His Poem for Violin and Piano has only one movement, a Largo. It was written in 1994 when Wood was in a lyrical phase of his maturity. He describes it as one long tune and it is one of the most melodic pieces on this disc. Much of the violin part played by Vallois is simply exquisite. Wood’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano, which dates from 1997, is a little more piquant than either the Bird or the Poem. Its subtle tone colors and spiky, intricate harmonies have a definite charm. The second movement, marked Risoluto, Fantastico, has some incredibly complex rhythms that charmed this listener. In May 2005, Wood completed the latest work on this compact disc, the Overture for Piano Trio. Written in his quasi-Schoenbergian style, this piece has some absolutely gorgeous string sonorities. The sound from Toccata Classics is clear and presents each player in good stead. If you enjoy the music of the Second Viennese School, you will love this disc.