Sir Henry's Themes and Variations
Until recently, Sir Henry Wood's CD presence centred largely round a couple of popular catalogue mainstays from the pre-war years: Litolff's Scherzo with Irene Scharrer and, more substantial but hardly less appealing, Elgar's Violin Concerto with Albert Sammons. But Wood was something of a gramophone pioneer; in fact, the Dance Rhapsody No. 1 was the first-ever recording of a work by Delius, although—to be fair to Beecham and the best of his successors—you need to bear that in mind when listening. I played its opening to a fellow Delian and he didn't even recognize the music! Squawky, blatant winds, emaciated strings and cavalier phrasing are about as far from Beecham's aromatic wistfulness as Delius is from Sousa—but there's life later on in the piece, the 'dance' upstaging the 'rhapsody' many times over.
The pleasantly diverting Holbrooke Three blind mice Variations approximate a creaky old barrel- organ grinding into action, although you can sense the players enjoying themselves later on. And if Rameau's Tambourin sounds more like a lively busking act than a stylish representative of the French Baroque, take heart that thereafter things improve dramatically. Gargantuan Handel notwithstanding, the other items are vital, spontaneous and generally well recorded. The Dvorak Symphonic Variations are delightfully buoyant and playful, and if you want confirmation of Wood's overall excellence in this sort of repertoire, remember that quite recently his Brahms Haydn Variations were mistakenly attributed to Toscanini (see the review of the New York Philharmonic's sesquicentennial celebration on Pearl, 4/92). The Ruslan Overture fires off at a terrific lick and the Bruckner—a condensed prophecy of symphonies soon to be—is given with a plain-speaking sense of drama. Add Dohnanyi's diverting Symphonische Minuten (a glance back to Richard Strauss, and forward to Bartok) and you have the basis of a most appealing programme, generally well transferred and usefully annotated. Now that the ball is rolling (Dutton Laboratories have also issued an excellent Vaughan Williams collection—reviewed 10/93), maybe some enterprising soul will resolve to release the various unissued Wood recordings currently held at the Royal Academy of Music.'