Hugh Wood: Symphony; Scenes from Comus

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Symphony; Scenes from Comus
PERFORMER: Geraldine McGreevy (soprano), Daniel Norman (tenor); BBC SO/Andrew Davis
Hugh Wood is now almost 70, and this recording of his Symphony, the largest work in a relatively small output, should help it take its place as one of the outstanding British symphonies of the last century. It’s a compelling mixture of lyricism and spikiness, with some passages soaring with the intensity of Berg (I’m thinking particularly of Lulu), and others bubbling with the exuberance of Tippett. And there’s mystery as well: after a ferocious opening five minutes, the first movement, aptly called ‘Tempesta’, suddenly gives way to a veiled quotation of the love motif from Wagner’s Die Walküre. Similarly, there’s a reference to Mozart’s Magic Flute in the second movement, as well as glorious outpourings of melody. But throughout all this, and the motoric scherzo and variation finale, there’s no sense of self-indulgence: this is music without an ounce of surplus fat. In Scenes from Comus the emphasis is more consistently on the lyrical and, given Milton’s text, the pastoral, especially in the extended vocal lines. Even the energetic dances are less harmonically astringent than the Symphony, and never tip over into violence. Andrew Davis, long an enthusiast for Wood’s music, draws performances of real conviction from his players and singers. Martin Cotton