Volume 2 in this series devoted to the recordings
of Henry Wood - see review
of volume 1 - has been cannily selected to promote items that haven’t
- in the main - been transferred to CD before. This accounts for the
very miscellaneous nature of the programme which ranges between 1926
and 1934, the year that Wood and the Columbia label parted, the conductor
contracting to Decca.
There are no great revelations here, rather a series of tried and trusted
middle-of-the-road works in highly efficient performances by a conductor
who is still significantly underrated. The disc opens with the overture
to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
with the New Queen’s
Hall Orchestra. The last of the four sides was the Scherzo
weirdly it featured not Wood, but Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw.
Why didn’t Columbia get Wood to record it? Wood’s Mendelssohn
is bluff and exciting and it’s a tribute to the staying power
of this performance that, checking a Columbia discography, I see that
it remained in the catalogue from 1929 until 1951.
After too short a gap, we are plunged into Sibelius’s Finlandia
which stayed in Columbia’s domestic catalogue almost as long and
the reading is suitably confident, reminding us of the conductor’s
great work in championing Sibelius in Britain. One recalls, too, that
of major British conductors it was Wood, not Beecham, who first promoted
Delius. Wood had a bit of a thing for Järnefelt’s Praeludium
as he recorded it three times in all; this is the March 1929 recording,
set down just a fortnight before he joined Albert Sammons for their
great recording of Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Both the Järnefelt
and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana
Intermezzo were recorded
with the band known as the ‘Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra’.
There’s plenty of portamenti in the latter and a powerful organ
The documentation isn’t wholly convinced that Wood directs the
British Symphony Orchestra in the two Bach sweetmeats (with droopy slides),
hedging its bets by parenthetically suggesting the LSO instead. Courage
was needed, because it was
the British Symphony. Wood certainly
gives the Gavotte
the heave-ho treatment; emphatic is probably
not quite the mot juste
. Similarly he excavates some subterranean
brass in the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto recording from 1930 - and there’s
one really dramatic accelerando as well. Wood was a fine conductor of
Russian music, albeit arguably not exciting as his British colleagues
Albert Coates and Landon Ronald. His ‘1812’ is heard in
good January 1926 sound.
The recording comes in a slim jewel case without notes, just a card
insert with recording details.
The sound varies according to the source material, some sides being
somewhat cracklier than others. On some I’d have preferred a more
open top, but they’re very listenable indeed. Those who want to
fill gaps in their Wood collections will enjoy this astute selection.
Masterwork Index: Bach