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Sir Dan Godfrey: A Sesquicentennial Salute
rec. 1927-1934

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) (previously the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra: BMO) was a landmark in my late teens. Its concerts and recordings fed a growing interest in classical music. Brought up in Torbay, studying in Bristol (with access to the soon to be renamed Colston Hall) and with my twenties in Plymouth and Saltash, the BSO was a continuing presence. My first concert - if we ignore some deadly dull G&S events at the Palace Theatre, Torquay - was in the early 1970s at University Great Hall, Exeter. The BSO was conducted by Paavo Berglund in Sibelius 5 with György Pauk in Brahms' Violin Concerto. Early on, and before the years of the internet, I tracked down a 1970 book on the history of the orchestra (Geoffrey Miller, 1970, Dorset Publishing) and read about the orchestra's glory days and its many financial tribulations. Later I was to read Dan Godfrey's biography (Memories and Music, 1924) and realised from the appendix listing works he had premiered and performed that Godfrey and his successors were dynamos. They gave light and air to many composers great and not so great so far as the current posterity is concerned. One of these was Joseph Holbrooke, whose works Godfrey and Richard Austin welcomed to the orchestra's concerts and, in Godrey's case, broadcast.

This Pristine CD charts surprising territory with Mozart's Jupiter symphony. It was quite something that Godfrey was selected by Columbia to direct the most eminent of Mozart's symphonies when the other forty were hardly in plenteous supply. Where they were recorded it was by Walter, Beecham, Harty and Weingartner. We must not forget that this was 1927 and that Godfrey's dates were 1868-1939. What of Godfrey's Jupiter? For a start it is all over in just over 27 minutes. Godfrey takes things in lithe and engaging style. He is clearly a no-nonsense practitioner. The implication is that the music does not need and will not get lashings of cream and does not need additional intensity or neon. He comes over as more of a Böhm than a Bernstein. It's a joyously unadorned listening experience all round. The recording quality as presented to us by Mark Obert-Thorn and Pristine is clean and, surprisingly, very listenable. The unnamed orchestra is probably, we are told, the LSO.

Of the shorter pieces - mostly with the BMO - we get a nicely lugubrious Handel Largo with a sadly smiling violin solo and a stiff-necked, struttingly self-important coronation march from Meyerbeer's Le Prophète with a supple counter-melody from the strings. Godfrey's Huldigungs Marsch is from a session a month after the Jupiter. It is dignified and commingles a quickish step and a Wagnerian swoon. Godfrey was known for his championing of British music. The three dances from Edward German's Henry VIII must serve as representative of the lighter fare that would have pleased bandstand and matinee public in the holiday resort. It is done with a light hand and the Torch Dance is given a wild and breathless twist which shows that German and Godfrey had learnt a thing or two from Borodin's Polovtsi. The Suppé, Offenbach and Auber are a reminder, and a very pointed one, that Godfrey was a dab-hand at these desperately unfashionable overtures which lived on independently of their operas. Their existence has had a bit of a boost of late by Rozhdestvensky and Järvi and Chandos and Naxos. There are exceptionally fruity clarinet and oboe solos in the Offenbach, even if parts of the overture strike a bargain with something very close to absurdity. The Alford Two Imps shows a practised hand when it comes to novelty jollies for audiences who could do with some sustenance beyond Godfrey's taste for symphonies by Mozart, Beethoven and, yes, Glazunov. BMO stalwart xylophonists Byrne and Bennett keep those queasy smiles alive. Good to be reminded of these smaller pieces beyond the repertoire featured in Ronald Corp's four Hyperion CDs of British light music and of other series generously launched by Dutton, Naxos and Guild. Speaking of Dutton, let's not forget a whole CD devoted to some usual and unusual Godfrey favourites on Dutton Epoch.

Thanks for original sound material are due to Nathan Brown, Jim Cartwright’s Immortal Performances, Inc. and Charles Niss and of course to Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer, Mark Obert-Thorn and Pristine. What better way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Dan Godfrey?

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K551, Jupiter [26:15]
George Frideric HANDEL
Largo from Xerxes [4:41]
Coronation March from Le Prophète [4:12]
Richard WAGNER
Homage March (Huldigungsmarsch) [5:59]
Three Dances from Henry VIII (Morris Dance [1:56]; Shepherd’s Dance [2:57]; Torch Dance [1:29])
Franz von SUPPÉ
Pique Dame – Overture [7:21]
Daniel AUBER
The Bronze Horse – Overture [7:00]
Orpheus in the Underworld – Overture [8:57]
Kenneth. J. ALFORD
The Two Imps [3:51]
Symphony Orchestra/Sir Dan Godfrey (Mozart, Wagner)
Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra/Sir Dan Godfrey
W. Byrne and W. W. Bennett (xylophone soloists)
rec. 1927-1934, Scala Theatre, London (Symphony Orchestra); Winter Gardens (1928) and the Pavilion (1929–34)

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