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Sir Henry WOOD (1869-1944)
Orchestrations by Sir Henry Wood

J.S. BACH Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) [9:53]
CHOPIN Marche funèbre (from Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor) [10:26]
SCHARWENKA Polish Dance (Op.3 No.1) [4:10]
GRANADOS Spanish Dance (No.5 Andaluza) [5:15]
GRIEG Funeral March [7:47]
DEBUSSY La Cathédrale engloutie (Preludes, Book 1 No.10) [6:46]
RACHMANINOV Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3 No.2 [3:46]
MOUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition [30:29]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Watford Town Hall, 10-11 January 1990 (Bach; Mussorgsky); 6 July 1993. DDD
LYRITA SRCD.216 [78:42]

The conductor Sir Henry Wood was an adept of grand orchestration and continued in this activity after such indulgences had ceased to be fashionable.

The famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in a free-ranging transcription produced in 1929 manages to be teutonic and gargantuan yet finds room for fine romantic detail indebted to Rimsky-Korsakov's fantasy operas.

The Chopin Funeral March is for large orchestra with bells and organ. It goes rather well and this version was first played in 1907 to mark the death of Joseph Joachim. This is a typically sonorous orchestration and it is sonorously played and recorded. It would be interesting to compare it with the orchestrations made by Stokowski and Elgar; the latter, it will be remembered, also orchestrated several Bach organ works. The wide-ranging Lyrita recording is something to be relished from the measured emergence into virtual silence to the saturated rise to protesting grief. Enigmatically it is both confessional and bellowing. The style is grand and no mistake; Hollywood sentimentality has nothing on this.

Xaver Scharwenka (brother of Philipp Scharwenka) had his Polish Dance No. 3 (one of a piano set of 12) orchestrated by Wood in 1919, the year of Polish independence also celebrated in Elgar's Polonia. It is as light on its toes as the use of the grandest of grand orchestras permits and there's certainly some delicate texturing.

Granados's Spanish Dance No. 4 in G is a reminder of Wood's regard for the Spanish composer. When Granados and his wife died after the torpedoing of the steamer ‘Sussex’ in 1916, Wood played the completed part of the Granados’s major orchestral work Dante and Virgil. Here we stand at the more frivolous end of the scale with an orchestration that emphasises the Spanishry - complete with castanets. As in the Chopin the notated portamento is distinctive and very much of its time.

After this comes another funeral march - clearly Wood liked them and he did them well. This time it’s Grieg's March for Richard Nordraak. The treatment preserves Grieg's distinctive folk lisp but overall it’s another weightily expressive piece.

Debussy's Cathédrale engloutie was more famously orchestrated by Stokowski but before that it had been given the orchestral treatment by Henri Büsser. Lewis Foreman plausibly speculates that, given its date (1919), it was intended as a memorial for Debussy's death in 1918. It's good to hear Wood, the magician of instrumentation, handling this piece with kid gloves and magically intensifying the impressionistic textures.

Rachmaninov could never escape the fame of his Prelude in C sharp minor op. 3 no. 2. Part of the 'curse' was a slew of orchestrators anxious to capitalise on the work's success. Wood's version was heard at the Queen's Hall promenades on 20 September 1913 and he recorded it acoustically in 1915. There is about it something of the funeral cortège again. Wood every time succumbs to the stormily monumental if offered even a glimmer of encouragement.

It would be good to find a list of all the orchestrations of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Lewis Foreman reports that the first was by an obscure pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, one Mikhail Tushmalov whose version dates from 1891; are we quite sure that this is not a nom de plume for Henry Wood who was given to that sort of thing. In any event the Tushmalov version was played by Wood after his own had been launched. Wood had been encouraged to tackle the orchestration by Rosa Newmarch and completed it in 1915. His version elides the promenades that separate the movements in the Ravel and in the original. Wood went so far as to withdraw his own score which is a pity because it has many strengths and is well worth getting to know. The highlights include the grand guignol of The Gnome with its rattle and nightmare. The Old Castle is more suave than the Ravel - one misses the saxophone. Tuileries is more pointillist-delicate than the Ravel with the solo violin playing a chuckling role. Bydlo has a more funereal tread and effect than the Ravel. The Ballet of the unatched chicks is inventively done with more woodwind charm than the Ravel. Goldenburg and Schmuyle has its pleasures including the strange woodwind chatter at 1:02 but overall is lacklustre by comparison with the Ravel. The chittering Limoges is similar to the Ravel. Catacombae is full of suitably mortuary effects. Bab Yaga's Hut on Chicken Legs is another example of the sort of horror which Wood loved - he seems to have loved full-on horror rather than the lightly spooky. This movement recalls at times Night on the Bare Mountain. It ends with an eleven bar episode for the mushroom bells which do a creditable job of evoking Russian cathedral bells before the crash of The Great Gate of Kiev in which Wood's phrasing differs noticeably from that of Ravel. Also at 2:00 the introduction to the pealing bell evocation is more magical than in the Ravel.

As expected then, it's swings and roundabouts but there is plenty here to fascinate and please. The additional steeliness and grandiloquence that Wood brings is well worth encountering and that 32 foot organ pedal for The Gate registers unmistakably.

Who but Lyrita would give us such a valuable collection and annotate it in such princely detail at the hands of Lewis Foreman?

An enjoyable collection shedding new light on Henry Wood.

Rob Barnett

The Lyrita Catalogue





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