From the First Night of The Proms 1943

0 of 5 stars

Dukas
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Saint-Saëns
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.22 – first movement & finale
Handel
Acis and Galatea – Love in her eyes sits playing
Beethoven
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67 – first movement
Stringfield
A Negro Parade
Tchaikovsky
Suite No.3 in G, Op.55 – Theme & Variations

Moura Lympany (piano)

Heddle Nash (tenor)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Henry Wood

Recorded 19 June 1943 in Royal Albert Hall, London


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2008
CD No: SOMM CÉLESTE
SOMMCD 076
Duration: 77 minutes

 

 

This concert cued the beginning of Sir Henry Wood’s 49th-season as Principal Conductor of the Proms (then, as now, under the auspices of the BBC). The 1943 Season was a 9-week, 55-concert affair involving two orchestras, the London Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony, with Sir Adrian Boult and Basil Cameron sharing the conducting with Wood. 44 concerts were broadcast that year – begging the question as to what else survives (Wood conducting Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony is intriguing) – with the Season itself including the premieres of symphonies by Vaughan Williams, Eugene Goossens and Lennox Berkeley.

BBC announcer Stuart Hibberd sets the scene. He comments that the LPO could only muster one lady member (a harpist) – an interesting comment for the time – and that the Arena of the Royal Albert Hall (then the new host of the Proms since the destruction by bombing of Queen’s Hall in 1941) was “packed like sardines”. The first music heard is a resolute rendition of the National Anthem.

Thus with excellent timing (July), to coincide with BBC Proms 2008, Somm has issued a fascinating document – a large portion of the First Night of 1943. Paul Dukas’s popular (and brilliant, in every sense) The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (then a recent showstopper featuring Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney’s film “Fantasia”) is deliberately paced and vividly presented, quite sinister and atmospheric: less a showpiece and more a narrative – to advantage. At the concert itself, the Dukas followed Arnold Bax’s London Pageant, which has been omitted for the technical reasons that also deny us the delightful middle movement of Saint-Saëns’s G minor Piano Concerto and all the movements of Beethoven 5 save the first.

Moura Lympany is superbly flamboyant in the concerto movements; and if dynamic bulges and exaggerated enunciation affect Heddle Nash’s singing of Handel, this is a ‘period piece’ not to be besmirched. (It seems as if Mozart’s re-orchestration of “Acis and Galatea” is used.) The first movement of the Beethoven symphony is weighty and trenchant, Klemperer-like, and altogether more ‘relevant’ than an ‘authentic’ breeze-through (Wood takes close on 7 minutes without the exposition repeat). All this music (given complete at the concert, of course, plus the Bax) was in the first half of this opening Prom of 1943.

The short second half included a novelty by the American composer and conductor Lamar Stringfield; A Negro Parade (1931) was receiving its UK premiere. Musically it lacks distinction and its crescendoing militaristic rhythms have a sense of menace (somewhat pre-empting the first movement of Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony); at the mid-point there is contrasting hymnal and the piece is inspired with an anti-racist commentary. Closing the concert and this release is the superb Theme & Variations finale from Tchaikovsky’s always-welcome Suite No.3, given with relish and sensitivity, and with a characterful violin solo from Jean Pougnet.

Allowing for the occasional pitch problem the sound is really very good for something “recorded off the air” 60 and more years ago. The presentation is annotated discernibly by Robert Matthew-Walker. All in all, this is a revealing slice of musical history.

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