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Seen & Heard
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Eugene Goossens conducts Russian orchestral
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Russian Easter Festival Overture op. 36 (1888) [14:38]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1910)
Poem of Ecstasy op. 54 (1905-8) [19:28]
Mili BALAKIREV (1836-1910)
Islamey - Oriental Fantasy (1869, 1902 orch. Alfredo Casella,
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874, orch. Maurice Ravel,
Goossens (Rimsky, Scriabin, Balakirev)
Royal Philharmonic Orchesta/Eugene Goossens (Mussorgsky)
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 13-14 February 1956 (Rimsky,
Scriabin); 8 February 1956 (Balakirev); 26, 28 September
1957 (Mussorgsky) ADD. stereo
MEDICI ARTS MM009-2 [77:47]
Goossens' career had a starry
trajectory across three continents but ended in scandal,
disappointment, ill health and death. The last is unavoidable
but his final years had the tragic air of a man trapped by
the mean-spiritedness of others.
His forte was music of the
late nineteenth century and the twentieth century - especially
the exotic. His activities as a composer were substantial
and spanned the whole of his life. In his works the exotic
and the late-romantic to modern can be heard. It is no surprise
to read that he conducted the orchestra for Diaghilev's Ballets
Russes and the theatre orchestra for Delius's music for Flecker's Hassan.
He also had substantial tenures as chief conductor of the
Cincinnati and Sydney orchestras.
The present astonishing recordings,
originally made for EMI, belong to the last chapter of his
life after the return from Australia.
His Russian Easter Festival is
memorable for its sense of whirling frenzy and for a passion
that is Tchaikovskian: ironic given Tchaikovsky’s aversion
for the Kouchka's nationalism. The violin solos sound very
much as if they might be at the hands of Hugh Bean - oddly
redolent of the famous Bean-Boult recording of The Lark
Ascending. The Scriabin has a wonderfully sustained
plastic pulse and the brass playing is nothing short of possessed
in much the same way as that of Golovanov's orchestra but
with the warbling wind vibrato omitted. The very early stereo
sound registers agreeably - especially below forte. Listen
to the neatly detailed harps at the end of the Scriabin.
It has a really gutsy impact in the Balakirev which
is fascinating because I did not recall having heard the
magnificently garish Casella orchestration before: Islamey is
better known on CD in the orchestration by Liapunov. The
downside is that the textures can congeal on occasions where
Casella opts for devastating weight rather than transparency.
Goossens gives the work a groaningly barbaric performance
with the Rimskian frenzy still in evidence from earlier in
the session. Goossens was not going to permit anything gentlemanly
or 1950s-staid from the Philharmonia.
I wonder who the principal
trumpet of the RPO was in September 1957 for Mussorgsky's Pictures.
He certainly deserves praise for such a forthright regal
delivery in The Promenade - one of many highlights
in a performance in which thunderous power is in the ascendancy
over subtlety. Those final chordal smashes in The Great
Gate of Kiev must have tested the styluses of the time.
Let's have more Goossens to
supplement the better know but intermittently available Everest
recordings. While we wait, this generous collection shows
us Goossens in repertoire well suited to his prodigious and
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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