James Wood

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Two men meet, each presuming the other to be from a distant planet; Phainomena; Venancio Mbande talking with the trees
PERFORMER: Steven Schick (percussion), Kuniko Kato (marimba); New London Chamber Choir, Critical Band/James Wood
Perhaps because of his sterling work with his New London Chamber Choir and microtonally oriented Critical Band, James Wood is less well known and appreciated as a composer than he should be, despite a Proms premiere which was one of the highlights of the 1995 season. Whimsically entitled Two men meet, each presuming the other to be from a distant planet, after Klee’s painting, it vividly enacts a dialogue between the potentially incompatible ‘old’ values of a pre-industrial, spiritually aware Eden – represented by a fearsome arsenal of tuned and untuned percussion, some of it designed and built by the composer himself – and our corrupted, modern existence – conjured up by a more conventional instrumental line-up.


Like the later work of Roberto Gerhard, this is music driven by pulse and colour and illuminated from time to time by shafts of tellingly placed melody, often microtonally inflected. It also invokes comparison with Stockhausen, nowhere more so than in Phainomena, in which the New London Chamber Choir meditates on the signs of the zodiac using a wide diversity of vocal techniques, traditional and extended. Another percussion concerto, Venancio Mbande talking with the trees, completes this absorbing and invigorating disc. Antony Bye