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Piano Concerto No 1 'The Song of Gwyn ap Nudd', Op 52

'Holbrooke & Wood: Piano Concertos' (CDA67127)
Holbrooke & Wood: Piano Concertos
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67127 
Movement 1 Part 1: Maestoso Allegro 'Open the gates of mirrored horn!'
Movement 1 Part 2: Animato 'Ye guards of my hold whom wanderers fear'
Movement 1 Part 3: A tempo 'Harness a steed from the gnomes dark fields'
Movement 1 Part 4: A tempo 'Vapour of night be thou my shield'
Movement 1 Part 5: 'Swift through the dell where the young bats wake'
Movement 1 Part 6: A tempo 'The armies of night are abroad'
Movement 1 Part 7: Tempo primo 'Here lies the field that was laid to our hand'
Movement 1 Part 8: 'Deep in the mould lies the golden helmed all'
Movement 1 Part 9: Pi¨ mosso al fine 'No spectre of them will answer my call'
Movement 2 Part 1: Poco adagio con sentimento 'Faint as the faith of our people long dying'
Movement 2 Part 2: Tempo poco Allegretto Poco Scherzando 'Clotted of shadows he comes to my hest'
Movement 2 Part 3: Tempo I 'Daughter of Lear'
Movement 2 Part 4: 'O God of our torment lean down and decide that we shall never meet again'
Movement 3 Part 1: Allegro, molto fuoco 'Blade that meets blade with never a sound'
Movement 3 Part 2: 'Face me afresh though the night hour fails'
Movement 3 Part 3: Tempo poco Larghetto 'Back to your grave'
Movement 3 Part 4: Tempo primo 'Break back from the battle'
Movement 3 Part 5: 'Away from this land, Fairy folk all'
Movement 3 Part 6: Poco lento 'Flit ye away while the shadows mate Branch and blest earth'
Movement 3 Part 7: L'istesso tempo (Doppio) 'For scorn follows fast on the Fairy King's fate'
Movement 3 Part 8: Cadenza
Movement 3 Part 9: Grandioso ľ brillante 'She was the most splendid maiden'

Piano Concerto No 1 'The Song of Gwyn ap Nudd', Op 52
Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of Faerie, is the lover of Cordelia, daughter of Ludd or Lear, familiar from Shakespeare’s play. He fights for her with Gwythyr ap (i.e. the son of) Greidawl on the first of May each year ‘until the day of doom’. Much of Holbrooke’s music evokes atmosphere or characters rather than underlining action. However, Celtophobes should not turn away, for the music can be enjoyed as a straightforward Romantic piano concerto.

The music starts with a lugubrious repeated rising motif played by the lower strings, almost as if to say ‘Once upon a time’. In total contrast, the piano’s entry with splashy octaves (Holbrooke has added ‘fuoco’ to my copy of the two-piano score) announces a virile protagonist and the orchestra responds with the almost martial first subject, immediately repeated fortissimo by the soloist, whose music is marked ‘Appassionato’. This is presumably a musical portrait of Gwyn ap Nudd, and almost immediately the soloist adds a surging heartfelt pendant, as if to emphasise the romantic side of his character, the latter part of the theme including the rising dotted motif from the introduction, which constantly returns. Almost immediately the piano runs on with a fourth idea (track 2) characterising the fleeting shadowy nature of the elfin band which constantly recurs (for example at [track 5]). Finally the piano races on to bring the opening motif into focus as a theme proper, re-stated by the orchestra amid a torrent of notes on the piano (track 3). This rounds off the first subject group. All four ideas reappear throughout the first movement.

Throughout the work there appear brief interludes as if the storyteller is surveying the scene before going on. The first of these (track 4) leads straight into the lyrical and Romantic second subject at the words ‘Fret not the face of the sleeping lake’; in fact this is surely a musical portrait of Cordelia, and this theme should be remembered, for it reappears at the end of the Concerto and returns at the most impassioned point of the first movement. The tune is taken up on the strings and built to a Romantic climax accompanied by the piano’s decorative figuration. After the story has been developed with the interplay of the various ideas so far identified, the soloist returns with the Cordelia theme (track 8) leading to a brilliant coda, consisting of a scherzo-like espisode of running quavers (track 9).

In the earlier versions of the Concerto the music played on continuously, ‘Segue’ appearing in the score. Later, Holbrooke envisaged making a short break between the first two movements, as we have here. Yet the mood continues, the change of scene almost anticipating ‘cross-cutting’ as in the cinema. At the beginning of the slow movement (track 10) the horn’s falling call is quickly taken up by the soloist who, unaccompanied, announces the main theme which is played at length. The strings when they finally respond are muted, giving the music a slightly spectral, twilight quality. Indeed, the mood seems to be a threatening one, not quite sure what is to come. In contrast, the scherzando middle section seems to suggest a salon encore of the period, almost a waltz, all delicate dancing and piano decoration (track 11). But soon the mood of the opening section returns and the solo piano makes a Romantic statement of the main theme (track 12) taken up by the strings. The music runs on into the third movement (track 14).

For his faery battle music, the conflict gradually dispelled by the onset of dawn, Holbrooke writes a whirlwind orchestral scherzo, the opening theme soon propelled by piano interjections and followed by the piano stating a second theme derived from the rising dotted figure from the opening of the Concerto. A succession of fleet-footed episodes introduce two further themes, the second again referring back to the first movement, before reaching the extended cadenza which ranges from dreamy introspection to brilliant exhibitionism and gradually reintroduces the theme of Cordelia from the first movement, at first as though half remembered from long ago. When the closing coda is reached the orchestra, now exultant, presents the Cordelia theme in all its languorous Romantic splendour. This is, indeed, the love song of Gwyn ap Nudd.

from notes by Lewis Foreman ę 2000

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Details for CDA67127 track 17
Movement 3 Part 4: Tempo primo 'Break back from the battle'
Recording date
5 June 1999
Recording venue
Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland
Recording producer
Recording engineer
Hyperion usage
  1. Holbrooke & Wood: Piano Concertos (CDA67127)
    Disc 1 Track 17
    Release date: February 2000
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