Sir Dan Godfrey – a sesquicentennial salute [Pristine Audio]

4 of 5 stars

Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)*
Plus “overtures, marches and short works”

Symphony Orchestra [sic]*
Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra
Sir Dan Godfrey

Columbia studio recordings 1927 to 1934 – K551 from February 1927 at the Scala Theatre, London; and either at the (old) Winter Gardens or at the Pavilion, Bournemouth, England

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2018
Duration: 75 minutes

I have a friend who will be delighted by this Pristine Audio release from Pristine Classics, for he is a onetime-living-in-Bournemouth chap and it is rare that our conversations do not include the town’s Symphony Orchestra (currently headed by Kirill Karabits) – for my anecdotal mate Richard F is senior enough to have attended concerts with Constantin Silvestri, the BSO’s charismatic conductor between 1962 and 1969, the year of his death aged fifty-five – and also the football club, now nicely settled in the Premiership under Eddie Howe’s management.

Also mentioned, occasionally, in our chat is Dan Godfrey as a somewhat enigmatic figure, his achievements dimmed by the passing years. Born in 1868 (forenames Daniel Eyers), this son of a bandmaster (of the Grenadier Guards) and a graduate of the Royal College of Music formed the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra in 1893 – it was elevated to Symphony status in 1954 when Charles Groves was in charge – and he continued as its conductor until his retirement in 1934. Godfrey, who died in 1939, became Sir Dan in 1922, and made a handful of Bournemouth recordings, included here.

But not the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony, documented in London with an anonymous group in February 1927. The first thing to address is the sound. Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has done an amazing job throughout: the background is almost silent, yet without any degradation of audio quality, which is bright, detailed and immediate: there is simply no barrier to this fascinating link to the past, and side-breaks are made seamless. And the performance of K551 is very fine, and very well played – this “Symphony Orchestra” obviously enjoyed the services of top musicians – ah, it can now be revealed … it is believed to be the LSO, then under contract to another label, HMV – Godfrey moulding a stately account, with measured but not lethargic tempos, and also with very little that is interventionist (a couple of over-emphatic spots in the first movement only), and with an especially sensitive song-like slow movement and a flowing and lilting Minuet and Trio embraced in a relatable tempo; a ‘modern’ performance, then, with only some portamento betraying the date. Also from London (a month later) is Wagner’s Huldigungsmarsch (Homage March), solemn and jaunty by turns, ceremonial for the most part.

The rest is Bournemouth, rather better than its Municipal tag might suggest, and anyway close-on and into forty years of his reign Sir Dan had an estimable ensemble as his long-attained windfall. Handel’s ‘Largo’ is given the full romantic (grandiose) treatment, with organ included, and Meyerbeer’s Coronation March is welcome if erring slightly on the side of deliberation. Conversely, Suppé’s Pique Dame Overture gets a sprightly outing, so too Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, and there is plenty of fire for ‘Torch Dance’ from Edward German’s Henry VIII. Charm and exuberance are radiated in Auber’s Bronze Horse Overture, with cantering rhythms near the end, and the disc ends with a smile-away novelty number, Kenneth J. Alford’s The Two Imps, which features xylophones courtesy of W. Byrne and W. W. Bennett – such is Pristine’s excellent annotation for an enlightening release available to everyone.

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