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.
(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
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
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.
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
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
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.