SONNETS, AIRS AND DANCES TO CALM OUR TROUBLED MINDS

The good people at Divine Art Recordings (www.divineartrecords.com) just sent in a musical care package eminently suited to calm our troubled minds, so overloaded with the noise emanating these days from our TV sets.

I turned off CNN and put on my CD player Sonnets, Airs and Dances (dda 25131), a collection 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 renditions of Latin texts from the Common Book of Prayer: Ave Maria and Ave verum corpus. The Partita for Recorder and Cello explores that unlikely instrumental 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 Lonesdale 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 an elusive style so difficult to imitate, so impossible to pin down, so quintessentially English.

Rafael de Acha

4 thoughts on “SONNETS, AIRS AND DANCES TO CALM OUR TROUBLED MINDS

  1. I am delighted to see your blog is up, running and already inviting an invigorating mix of commentary from a wide range of individuals – some, happily, quite familiar to me!

    Open discourse is always challenging, sometimes regrettably and unnecessarily ugly; yet often delightful, even serendipidous!

    Thank you, Rafael, for establishing this forum…and for all the great things you and Kimberly do in Cincinnati and beyond.

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  2. Rafael, I am ignorant when it comes to what the word “dance” means in the title or designation of a musical work. Is it actually intended for dance? What makes something danceable vs. not?

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    1. Jeanne, In the very basic meaning of the word, “dance” is anything a human body will do as spontaneous movement (you know, “dance as if nobody were watching you…”) When elevated to an art form (as in Mam-Luft&CoDance’s dances) it can still retain its identity as something that does not need or require music in order to be what it is (which is so much of what you so brilliantly do) Likewise, musical pieces that are called “dances” can range from compositions conceived and meant to be danced to (anything from 16th century jigs to Lady Gaga’s latest release) all the way to dance forms (waltz, tango, bolero) that were “stolen” by composers to be used purely as concert pieces. In that last group you would have compositions such as Ravel’s La Valse and Bolero Bizet’s Habanera in his opera, Carmen, Mussorgsky’s Hopak in his “Songs and Dances of Death” or any number of Astor Piazzola’s instrumental compositions (that he calls ‘Nuevo Tango’) that are not really meant for dancing.

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