Composer Stephen Wood in a mountain wilderness. (courtesy of the composer)

CD Review: Untrammeled reflects wilderness inspirations

Karl Henning | 16 APR 2019

Composer Stephen Wood, who is also a naturalist by avocation, has reflected his residency in wild unspoilt places in an engaging and admirable divertimento entitled Untrammeled.

The first number, Drosera: the morning dew of the sun, for clarinet ensemble has a perky rhythmic profile which, if it does not actually swing, is agreeably suggestive of swing. The winsome musical character, and assuredly idiomatic writing make the number equally a delight to perform as to listen to.

A live performance of “Drosera: the morning dew of the sun,” composed for the Okefenokee Wilderness Area and inspired by the little carnivorous plant Sundew. (YouTube video courtesy of Stephen Wood.)

The second is Untrammeled: a point of view from Slaven’s Bluff, which raises an interesting question for the writer: Is it proper to call it a title track, when the track’s title expands upon that of the whole? Let’s go ahead and call it the title track and be temporarily done with propriety .As the inaugural stroke of a glockenspiel rings on, out of the resonance emerges a breathy flute which in turn invites two ascetic, modal strings into the space.

Nantahala introduces the piano, with a series of atmospheric chords: now, instead of the flute, a clarinet and violin emerge as a cantabile duet. This luscious trio goes on, until the piano decides it is time to dance.

Roadless is a lovely wind chorale, describing a very satisfying harmonic arc. Gladie Cabin, for string quartet, is no great distance from folk music. Sandstone, also for strings, is a bit more urbane – to no disadvantage.

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Little Ones is of a deliberate, almost ponderous character seemingly at odds with the title, or perhaps we regard the young of some lumbering beast. The Clifty Wilderness provides a rhythmically active, fitting conclusion.

Untrammeled has a total running time of some 35 minutes. The music is well written and the suite as a whole I find thoroughly engaging. Many listeners will feel a further attraction in the fact that the composer found inspiration for his music in the wilds of nature. ■

Karl Henning is a composer, clarinetist and writer based in Boston, Massachusetts. Henning has also written reviews for MusicWeb International, and

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