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Sir Henry Wood - Volume 2
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream; overture, Op.21 (1826) [11:40]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Finlandia, Op.26 (1899 rev 1900) [7:17]
Armas JÄRNEFELT (1869-1958)
Praeludium (1899-1900) [2:22]¹
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Intermezzo from Cavelleria rusticana (1890) [3:53]¹
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Air on a G String [4:11]²
Gavotte [3:51] ²
Brandenburg Concerto in B flat, No.6 BWV1051 (1708-10) [16:45]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni; overture K527 (1787) [6:10]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Chant sans paroles [2:54]
1812 Overture, Op.49 (1880) [15:54]
New Queen’s Hall Orchestra
Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra ¹
British Symphony Orchestra ²
rec. 1926-34
HISTORIC RECORDS HRCD00028 [73:04]

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 but 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 cushion too.
 
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.
 
Jonathan Woolf  

Masterwork Index: Bach Brandenburg concertos