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Sir Dan Godfrey: A Sesquicentennial Salute
rec. 1927-34

Dan Godfrey’s greatest claim to recorded history is his late acoustic 1925 recording of Vaughan Williams’s 1920 revision of the London Symphony, of which two years earlier he had also recorded excerpts. Both can be found on Symposium 1377.

Godfrey was an indefatigable promoter of new music. Stephen Lloyd’s performance list, in his Godfrey biography, is exhaustingly fascinating to read. He gave numerous opportunities to composers and to soloists in Bournemouth and if he was inclined to be peppery – he is surely the only conductor to have been rude to both Sammons and Solomon – then he certainly got things done. And he knew how to apologise too. If he seems reminiscent of any other British conductor of the time it is surely his almost exact contemporary, Henry Wood. Wood had his Queen’s Hall Orchestra and his Proms in swanky South Kensington; Godfrey operated on a rather more South Coast basis with a much smaller band but in many ways he was just as progressive and programmatically advanced.

Here we find his other symphonic recording, Mozart’s Jupiter, recorded in February 1927 in the Scala Theatre, London with one of Columbia’s famously anonymous orchestras (anonymous for contractual reasons) – but which was very likely to have been the LSO. Then there is a sequence of light pieces, marches and overtures and the like, that form so resolute a part of Godfrey’s rather meagre discography. A few months after Godfrey’s Mozart performance the LSO recorded it again, this time under Albert Coates, in a reading that Pristine has also restored. Coates’ rhythms bite harder and Godfrey may seem the more robust interpreter, but timings don’t tell the whole story. Indeed, Pristine’s track timing is wrong; Godfrey’s first movement lasts eight minutes not nine, and Godfrey’s pacing is almost exactly one adopted by Böhm conducting the Vienna Philharmonic half a century later. For the time and place this is a responsible and musical reading. He may have come from a bandmasterly family, but this is not bandmasterly Mozart.

Handel’s Largo opens just like the recording Albert Sandler made with organist Sidney Torch the previous year for Columbia – so maybe the label’s A&R men thought it a good idea to allow the solo violin-and-organ introduction to expand into a big band and brassy peroration for the second half. I assume that we hear Byron Brooke, whose delicate, portamento-flecked playing with its relatively slow vibrato makes quite a contrast to Sandler’s glamorous playing. The ‘flip side’ of this side was a rousing Coronation March from Meyerbeer’s La Prophète. For heftier fare Godfrey was teamed with the LSO in Wagner’s Homage March, made the month after his Mozart recording, and not overloading despite the Wagnerian amplitude. For the remainder it’s back to Bournemouth for in situ recordings of Edward German’s Three Dances from Henry VIII – exciting and engaging playing, even with vibrato-shy winds, the prevailing aesthetic of the time. A Pathé film of Godfrey conducting the dances exists and it’s evocative and well worth seeking out on the internet.

He recorded overtures by Suppé, Auber and Offenbach, cannily selected repertoire in spirited performances – though maybe not always the tidiest of ensembles. To finish there’s the Pier Show caprice of the two xylophone soloists, Messrs Byrne and Bennett, as they devour March King Kenneth Alford’s The Two Imps. They could hardly be more under the microphone if they’d begged the engineers.

Godfrey (1868-1939) made his last recordings in 1934, the year he retired. Rather ungallantly – but a sign of the times – Columbia deleted his Mozart symphony recording almost the moment he retired. It meant he left a small and miscellaneous legacy, but he fought tenaciously in Bournemouth and there was as much on disc before the war from that small town as there was from other much larger cities.

I suppose, musically speaking, I would have preferred to have had Godfrey’s recording of the first four Dvořák Slavonic Dances and Debussy’s Petite Suite, made at the same session with the LSO in 1926, but that would have eaten into time for the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra. Given that was so powerful an element in Godfrey’s life, it seems a reasonable decision. The transfers, by the way, are excellent.

Jonathan Woolf

MOZART: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K551, “Jupiter”
1. 1st Mvt.: Allegro vivace (8:12)
2. 2nd Mvt.: Andante cantabile (7:09)
3. 3rd Mvt.: Menuetto: Allegretto & Trio (3:51)
4. 4th Mvt.: Finale: Molto allegro (7:03)
Recorded 4 February 1927 ∙ Matrices WRAX 2432/9 (Columbia L 1938/41)
5. HANDEL: Largo from Xerxes (4:41)
Recorded 22 July 1934 ∙ Matrix CAX 7231 (Columbia DX 620)
6. MEYERBEER: Coronation March from Le Prophète (4:12)
Recorded 22 July 1934 ∙ Matrix CAX 7230 (Columbia DX 620)
7. WAGNER: Homage March (Huldigungsmarsch) (5:59)
Recorded 23 March 1927 ∙ Matrices WRAX 2524/5 (Columbia L 2002)
EDWARD GERMAN: Three Dances from Henry VIII
8. Morris Dance (1:56)
9. Shepherd’s Dance (2:57)
10. Torch Dance (1:29)
Recorded 16 – 17 March 1928 ∙ Matrices WA 8235/6 (Columbia 5577)
11. SUPPÉ: Pique Dame – Overture (7:21)
Recorded 29 April 1928 ∙ Matrices WAX 3572/3 (Columbia 9496)
12. AUBER: The Bronze Horse – Overture (7:00)
Recorded 29 April 1930 ∙ Matrices WAX 5565/6 (Columbia DX 69)
13. OFFENBACH: Orpheus in the Underworld – Overture (8:57)
Recorded 18 March 1934 ∙ Matrices CAX 7116/7 (Columbia DX 593)
14. K. J. ALFORD: The Two Imps (3:51)
W. Byrne and W. W. Bennett (xylophone soloists)
Recorded 29 April 1928 ∙ Matrix WAX 3569 (Columbia 9505)
Symphony Orchestra (Tracks 1 – 4 & 7)
Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra (Tracks 5 – 6 & 8 – 14)
Sir Dan Godfrey
Symphony Orchestra recordings made in the Scala Theatre, London
Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra recordings made in the old Winter Gardens (1928) and the Pavilion (1929 – 34), Bournemouth

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