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CD: Historic Recordings

Sir Henry Wood – Volume 1 Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809) Symphony No 94 in G major Surprise Hob.I.94 (1791) [17:47]
César FRANCK (1822–1890) Symphony in D minor (1886-88) [30:47]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921) Danse Macabre op. 40 (1874) abridged [3:00]
Joachim RAFF (1822–1882) Cavatina for violin and orchestra Op.85 No.3 (1859) orch. Singer 1874 [4:17]
Armas JÄRNEFELT (1869–1958) Praeludium for Orchestra [2:46]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873–1943) Prelude in C sharp minor Op 3 No 2 orch. Henry Wood [3:05]
New Queen’s Hall Orchestra/Henry Wood
rec. 1916 (Saint-Saëns, Raff); 1922 (Rachmaninoff); 1924 (Franck) 1925 (Haydn, Järnefelt)

Experience Classicsonline

This is a cannily selected compilation of recordings made by Henry Wood between 1916 and 1925. I’m not aware that any have been re-released commercially, though in saying that I always run the risk of invoking the wrath of a collector who has had access to a Japanese edition. There are two major statements here: Haydn’s Symphony No.94 and Franck’s Symphony, and some engaging satellite discs.

Of the smaller items we have the two sides of Columbia L1118. The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra was drastically reduced for this cramped and abridged 1916 coupling of the Danse macabre – with its unnamed solo violinist, and heroic percussionist - and Raff’s Cavatina. Here, in the latter, the bass reinforcements make themselves unavoidably audible, in a bold, filmic rather brass band-like traversal. I’m not sure if this is based on the Singer orchestration. The Järnefelt Praeludium was a favourite of Wood’s. It is here as a filler to the Haydn Symphony but he returned to it at the end of the 1920s on DX194, as indeed he did to his own arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Prelude of which he hear the earlier 1922 recording.

Probably the best known Wood performance of a Haydn work is the Farewell Symphony (No.45) recording of 1934, which has since been transferred to CD. This late acoustic Surprise is an altogether rarer item, but it was by no means a pioneering effort. A four-sided recording had been issued in 1912 with the Victor Concert Orchestra and the Grosses Odeon Streichorchester, Berlin had added to the discography with their six-sided recording in 1913. The big names came in 1924 however, almost inevitably Leo Blech and the German Opera House Orchester and Frieder Weissmann and his Berlin State. Wood’s was recorded in February and March 1925 over five sides. The usual brass bass reinforcements were in service, and to our ears these seem in this instance to have been rather overdone in the first matrix. Textures are quite thick, throughout. The winds are distinctive however and the first violin dispatches his role robustly. The copy used for the second movement is a little scrunchy.

If the Haydn led to texture problems the Franck symphony would have represented significantly more problems. In view of the furore that greeted Wood’s badly truncated Eroica recording of the preceding year, Columbia didn’t have the temerity to abridge the Franck. This was a major undertaking; the first ever recording of the symphony just ahead of the French rival version by Coppola and the Pasdeloup Orchestra. The discs have a little wear and a touch of mild blasting but the sound certainly comes through. The bass reinforcements are more effective and more subtle than in the Haydn, though again the textures are muddy brown in places. This is a typically buoyant and no-nonsense account, and it shows Wood as a more-than-merely bluff practitioner of his art. If you can go with the sonics, and are of a historically-minded inclination, then I think you may find this first ever recording valuable.

No notes are provided, which is standard Historic Recordings practice and not of huge concern to me. Selection principles in their catalogue are wide-ranging and should tempt the inquisitive collector; there are some really fine things there, and this Wood release is an example of gap-filling enterprise and intelligence.

Jonathan Woolf

Wood: a more-than-merely bluff practitioner of his art. Some really fine things… see Full Review
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