The unfortunate thing about this short suite is that you need to have two CDs to hear the entire work! The suite is in three well-balanced movements, however it does not appear to have been recorded as a complete entity – at least it has not been released as such. The first movement is on a Guild Light Music CD and is played by the New Concert Orchestra conducted by Serge Krish and the second and third are part of the Marco Polo Haydn Wood retrospective Volume 2, played by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ernest Tomlinson. [Haydn Wood: Volume 2 Marco Polo 8.223605 & Joyousness-The Music of Haydn Wood Guild GLCD 5121]
Frescoes were composed around 1936, when the composer was in his mid-fifties. According to Ernest Tomlinson, the music was inspired by the ‘mural decorations by Miss Anna Zinkeisen which graced a famous music publishing house.’ In fact it was Boosey and Hawkes at 295 Regent Street. Unfortunately, the murals were destroyed by fire in October 1990. I wonder if anyone has any photographs? (Apart from one obscure shot in Tempo)
Out of interest, Miss Zinkeisen was a Scottish artist, born in 1901. She and her sister Doris was employed by John Brown & Son of Clydebank, Glasgow to paint murals for the Queen Mary’s Verandah Grill and ballroom. During the war, Anna was a war artist working with the Red Cross and the Order of St John.
The first movement of Frescoes convincingly portrays a ballroom somewhere in Vienna, complete with a Hollywood-inspired realisation of the waltzes and the flowing dresses. It is one of the most delicious little waltzes that Haydn Wood or any other Englishman has composed.
The listener will instantly recognise the two main tunes used on the second movement Sea Shanties. The music opens quietly with a dream-like calm. It develops into a reflective mediations on ‘Shenandoah’, before suddenly moving onto ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor?’ with its lovely muted brass melody. However, the serious side of this music reasserts itself and the movement ends as it began with ‘Shenandoah’ played with Delius-like slippery harmonies.
The March: The Bandstand in Hyde Park, based on another fresco, is depicted in the last movement and is well portrayed with a fast-paced march tune. This is no concert march like Elgar or Walton would have produced, but is an everyday, popular tune that would have been enjoyed by countless holidaymakers and day trippers at bandstands around the country. The march’s trio is a good tune, without going over the top. But what impresses me most is the superb orchestration: it is masterly in its use of colour, especially in the brass section.
Frescoes deserves to have a modern recording as a complete suite. It is a well written work that is typical of the composer’s output.