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Piano Concerto in D minor
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We do not know quite how long he was working on this large-scale Piano Concerto, which he completed in 1909. It was first heard at a Patron’s Fund Concert at Queen’s Hall on 14 July 1909, with Ellen Edwards, a recent graduate of the RCM, as soloist and Stanford conducting. It reappeared at Queen’s Hall on 2 June 1913 with another now-forgotten lady pianist, Tina Lerner, as soloist, and no less a conductor than Mengelberg. It surfaced for a third time at a Queen’s Hall Promenade Concert during the First World War, on 26 August 1915, when Sir Henry Wood conducted and yet another now-forgotten pianist, Auriol Jones, was the soloist.

After the Concerto, Wood’s career took a completely new turn, largely influenced by his wife, the singer Dorothy Court, with whom he went on the halls and for whom he wrote a succession of popular songs. His song Roses of Picardy, one of the most successful hits of the First World War, brought him fame and sold over a million-and-a-quarter copies. Subsequently he turned to musical comedy as a composer, and his musical play Tina from 1915 was an early gramophone hit with at least half-a-dozen recordings of selections from it available during the War. By then he already had a number of successes with popular orchestral encores, and while, from time to time, he continued to produce serious concert works, he earned his living from his light music and popular songs. As with all light-music composers of the time, it was sometimes difficult to decide where one genre ended and the other began.

He was one of the three outstanding British composers between the wars who developed what became known as ‘light music’, the others being Eric Coates and Montague Phillips. Although Wood tended to find himself in the shadow of Coates, he produced a considerable repertoire of orchestral music and songs, both fields in which Coates excelled. Wood also espoused more serious works and in later years wrote both a violin concerto and his Philharmonic Variations – a sort of latter-day Rococo Variations – for cello and orchestra.

Thus for many years the Piano Concerto was forgotten, but in 1936 a BBC performance was announced with Wilfrid Parry as soloist – though, in the event, on that occasion Wood’s more recently composed Violin Concerto was a last-minute substitute when the pianist injured his arm. But the Piano Concerto was indeed broadcast on 11 September 1937.

During 1939 the work enjoyed a brief vogue in South Africa where it was first heard in a SABC broadcast on 7 March 1939 and subsequently broadcast three more times in October and November. It was revived by the BBC in 1951 and 1952 but has not been heard since until now.

The Concerto opens with an extended orchestral introduction which foreshadows the thematic material of the first movement. The first subject is announced by the piano in a bravura display in octaves leading to an extended climax and an orchestral motif which will recur at the end of the third movement. The lyrical second subject, marked ‘Tranquillo’, follows and generates much decorated piano writing and a secondary rising triplet motif in thirds introduces a musing quiet episode. An extended treatment of the first subject eventually leads to the cadenza and the coda which develops and ornaments the second subject before the brilliant close.

In the compact central ‘Andante’ the strings are muted, their singing somewhat plain, and this opening contrasts the decorated character of the piano writing. In the middle section the piano plays its song in octaves between the hands. This grows to a climax and then subsides as the opening music returns, the strings now playing ppp. The piano’s simple song returns and it sinks to the quiet close.

The Finale returns to the display of the opening. A falling horn motif and punctuating orchestral chords introduce the piano playing runs in thirds, and the keyboard display is increasingly active. Twice the orchestra tries to introduce new, more lyrical, material but the piano is master and eventually rouses the orchestra to its full power, which stimulates the piano to a triumphal passage in octaves. This introduces an episode based on a new theme. Overall, the first subject group consists of two themes; this is followed by the second subject, but there are also two additional ideas. The shape is A–B–A–C–C–D–E–B–A–C–F, almost as if the composer set out to write a rondo but modified his ideas halfway through. The return of the opening orchestral theme presages the coda, which is a grand version of the second subject, and the end comes with a reminiscence of the third idea from the opening movement.

from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2000

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Details for CDA67127 track 25
Finale: Vivace
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-99-12725
Duration
12'18
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 25
    Release date: February 2000
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