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From the First Night of the Proms 1943
Announcements [2:59]
National Anthem [1:06]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897) [11:43]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor Op.22 – second movement omitted (1868) [17:42]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Acis and Galatea – Love in her eyes sits playing (1718) [7:27]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Op. 67 – first movement only (1807) [6:40]
Lamar STRINGFIELD (1897-1959)

A Negro Parade (1931) [9:29]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Theme and Variations from Suite No.3 Op.55 (1884) [19:58]
Moura Lympany (piano)
Heddle Nash (tenor)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Henry Wood
rec. live, Royal Albert Hall, London, 19 June 1943. ADD
SOMMCD 076 [77:17]
Experience Classicsonline

This totally unexpected disc arrives with perfect timing to coincide with the opening of this year’s Proms. It enshrines the opening concert – or parts of it – of 1943’s Prom season, the forty-ninth. It was the last complete season under Wood’s direction as he was die the following year. That perilous season saw premieres of symphonies by Vaughan Williams (his Fifth), Goossens and Lennox Berkeley.

The complete broadcast programme has not survived or has survived in poor estate. The concert opened with the National Anthem (preserved) and continued with Bax’s London Pageant. In his notes Robert Matthew-Walker states that it’s been impossible to obtain a "suitable copy" of this. By which I infer he means that a copy in poor condition has survived. So the concert proper opens with Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and is then followed by Moura Lympany’s performance of two movements of the Saint-Saëns G minor concerto – the middle movement is apparently, like the Bax, preserved in poor shape. The Heddle Nash Handel aria is intact. There is only the opening movement of Beethoven’s Fifth. This is followed by a real novelty, the American composer’s Lamar Stringfield’s A Negro Parade. The last item in the Prom was Tchaikovsky’s Theme and Variations from the Suite No.3, preserved in its entirety.

The patrician tones of BBC announcer Stuart Hibberd gets things underway as he notes the leaders of both the LPO and LSO, who were to undertake the season; Jean Pougnet of the former, Paul Beard of the latter. Good to know that Proms announcers have always indulged in some pre-concert waffle. "Here is Jean!" says Hibberd as if Pougnet were a schoolboy tennis champion "tall, slim, fair…" In period intonation he notes the "vo-ciferous welcome for Sir Henry." Then Wood ushers in a nice and slow National Anthem and leads an engaging performance of the Dukas, one that reflects well on the war-depleted LPO. It’s certainly no Stokowski performance; his fellow Londoner Wood was a more placid communicator all round. Wood had recorded a snippet from this on Columbia back in 1917.

It’s a shame that one movement of the Saint-Saëns is in such imperfect condition because Lympany plays with flair, power, and considerable imagination in the two outer ones – once past a very brief pitch lurch in the opening. This is eloquent playing and exciting too, swashbuckling in the finale. Merited applause breaks out. Heddle Nash reigning British lyric tenor gives one of his party pieces from Handel. He recorded Love in her eyes sits playing with Maurice Miles and the young Philharmonia two years later – a rather quicker performance. Wood also speeds up between verses, unlike Miles who is steady. . The broadcast catches Nash rather fuller of voice than in his commercial disc though very slightly less steady in shaping the line. Splendid to hear his mistrelsy though.

We know from Jessie Wood’s book how fed up Henry Wood had become of Beethoven’s Fifth by now. He’d recorded it for Decca in 1935 [Dutton CDAX2002]. There’s a bit more prominent surface noise in this opening movement of the symphony than elsewhere. It’s of a piece with his earlier recording. Stringfield was born near Raleigh, North Carolina, and his works seem to have ranged over Black, Appalachian and Blue Ridge topographies. A Negro Parade was given a programmatic note by its composer but stylistically it’s a dash of Stravinsky and an overdose of La Valse with some gospel and Blues elements. The March effects are atmospheric and the blues cadences on clarinet in the central section similarly. It makes for diverting if somewhat repetitious listening. Tchaikovsky was a Wood speciality and a real strength. He’s aided in the Theme and Variations by Pougnet’s luscious, rich viola-like solo; a good performance throughout.

Releases like this come as amazing surprises. Britain’s recorded heritage from the war years is rather sparse so survivals such as this one satisfy a real desire to hear more – and also stimulate curiosity as to what else is out there.

As a special plea, when is someone going to do the right thing and release Robert Soetens’s British premiere broadcast performance of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto (he gave its world premiere) conducted by Henry Wood?

Jonathan Woolf


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