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Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
Orchestral Works

CD1 [79.55]
Symphony No. 1 (1940) [42.02]
Oboe Concerto (1927) [12.22]
Tam O’Shanter (1919) [3.10]
Concert Piece for two harps, oboe (doubling cor anglais) and orchestra (1958) [22.00]
West Australian Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
CD2 [61.57]
Symphony No 2 (1944)
Concertino (1927)
Fantasy for Nine Winds (1924)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley.
CD 3 [76.12]
Divertissement (1959-60) 18.37
Variations on a Chinese Theme (1911-12) [27.18]
The Eternal Rhythm (1913) [20.24]
Kaleidoscope (1917, 1933) [9.50]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
rec. March; Nov 1996 Perth Concert Hall (CD1); Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House 19-20 Nov 1993, 30 Nov 1993 (Symphony 2, Concertino); Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Center, Sydney, 30 Nov 1993 (Fantasy); Oct 1995 Melbourne Concert Hall (CD3). DDD
ABC CLASSICS 476 7632 [3 CDs: 79.55 + 61.57 + 76.12]

Once available separately as:-
CD1 ABC CLASSICS 462 766-2 Symphony 1 etc
CD2 ABC CLASSICS 442 364-2 Symphony 2 etc.
CD3 ABC CLASSICS 462 766-2 Divertissement etc

Here is the core of Eugene Goossens’ orchestral music spread across three discs. Three Australian orchestras are conducted by Vernon Handley that doyen of fine music ... and not just English music as anyone who knows his recording of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony will know.

People tend to look askance at conductor’s works but increasingly we are being allowed by the likes of CPO and Marco Polo to make up our own minds, revise, reject or affirm condemnation and make discoveries. Goossens receives a resounding vote of confidence in this prestigious boxed set.

The first volume to be issued featured the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the second the West Australian and the third volume the Melbourne orchestra. Who knows - perhaps the next (if there is a next) will have the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra returning to Goossens territory. It was, after all, the Adelaiders who recorded the Goossens Symphony No. 1 with David Measham back in 1977 (Unicorn LP KP8000); a recording still lying unissued and a natural for Regis who seem to have the entré into the Unicorn archive.

Volume 1 presents the CD premiere of Symphony No. 1 and of Tam o’Shanter. The Concert Piece appears for the first time on any commercially-released medium although there are tapes of a BBC performance of the piece circulating among enthusiasts. It is simply packed with good music although in this company easily the most impressive and accessible is the Symphony. This work belongs to the turbulent late nineteen-thirties and can loosely be bracketed with the Hubert Clifford Symphony (available on Chandos), Stanley Bate’s Symphony No. 3 (a golden opportunity for some orchestra and company there) and Arthur Benjamin’s Symphony (available on Marco Polo but also to be released in an alternative performance in the unforeseeable future by Lyrita Recorded Edition).

Before this recording I had heard a pair of performances of this Symphony. The pair were the Unicorn LP - Measham - and a BBC Scottish SO/Jerzy Maksymiuk BBC Radio 3 broadcast on 15 December 1990. Both seemed lively and the Measham in particular I found impressive although nothing in that recording has won me over as much as Handley’s ABC disc.

Handley and ABC have captured the often ambivalent moods created by Goossens better than any performance so far. The composer’s own Australian LP is in a special historical category and since it has never been issued on CD is largely inaccessible. In any event it is in mono and dates from the mid-1950s. I wonder how many copies survive. Perhaps supplies of the disc were destroyed after the scandal which marked Goossens’ tragic departure from Australia?

All the multi-faceted episodes and emotions are there in the First Symphony. Its Baxian mystery comes as no surprise: it will be remembered that Goossens conducted the UK premiere of Bax Symphony No. 2 and then revived it with the BBCSO during the 1950s. This hooded foreboding jostles with creeping militaristic figures reminiscent of Alwyn’s bitter determination in Symphonies 1 and 3. A pointed febrile urgency is at the cortex of this performance and Handley keeps in constant touch with this pulse. At 8.19 in the first movement a flute passage takes us to the dank and willowy world of Frank Bridge. Indeed Bridge is a persistent reference point for Goossens. At 3.12 in the second movement Bridge’s world obtrudes again in tones of glassy fragility. Korngold (violin solo at II 5.00) and Zemlinsky are also familiar voices. The third movement is a tetchy divertimento with an edgily splenetic side-drum goading the proceedings along. The chattering flute at 3.28 takes us into RVW territory. The boiling finale is topped off by the desperate Scriabinesque fanfares of the augmented trumpet section. Goossens prescribed three extra trumpets saying that they were ‘absolutely essential to the effective brilliance of the finale.’ They register strongly in this clean and direct ABC ambience.

The other works are worth having but are not as immediately attractive. They register a voltage level in the lower foothills of the symphony. The Concerto is concise and fanciful; a capricious tone poem for oboe and orchestra without obstinately memorable ideas. Tam is brief and does not register in the mind but that also applies to any performance including the one conducted some years ago for an ABC LP by Patrick Thomas (a coupling for the opera Judith). The Concert Piece is a one of those works I still have not yet come to a conclusion about. It is a family confection for Marie and Sidonie (the two harpists) and for Leon (the oboist). The harps glitter and glimmer in shimmering iridescence. The oboe pays sad court to the harps but the beauties of the piece fail to come over strongly. This is a piece to intrigue rather than immediately conquer. Did I detect a pervasive air of sadness and nostalgia? Certainly the eruption of a famous concert waltz towards the end suggests recollections of past glories.

One the second disc, the shortest of the three, the Symphony No 2 is the anchor. It was written in Maine, Seattle, New York and Cincinnati. Here it gets its first commercial recording albeit from a concert performance. Not that that factor dilutes the obvious technical and artistic strengths of this musical event - quite the opposite in fact - a real sense of occasion is conveyed. The recording is complete with applause. The audience is otherwise unobtrusive.

The artists project Goossens’ own brand of brooding and astringent lyricism with great power. The work does however need repeated hearings. The language is slightly more oblique than the franker heroics of Symphony No 1 (1940) from which it is separated by only five years. Its darkness reflects the war years as the composer seems to admit in his programme note. Occasionally Nielsen, Bax and even Rawsthorne are suggested but these are passing impressions. Sample the start of the symphony: a sinuous bassoon theme climbing out of subterranean depths. Aspiring, straining, Scriabinesque trumpet calls are a feature of the second movement at 6.40. The folk song The Turtle Dove casts its spell over the slow movement. The more Goossens you listen to the more is his voice revealed as distinctive and strongly atmospheric. There are many beautiful moments here. This symphony was first performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra/composer (People’s Palace, London, 2.11.1946).

The Concertino for strings is propulsive, lively and buoyant. It began life in 1928 when it was scored for string octet. You may well have heard it broadcast on the BBC some years ago or more recently on a Chandos CD. The Fantasy (1924) is, by turns, Russian-exotic, folksy and Grainger-like. It is the "through a glass darkly" folk-song element which, for me, marks out Goossens’ music so pungently. There is something here of Frank Bridge’s There is a Willow.

Having recorded the two symphonies ABC Classics turned to some of the other orchestral works.

Divertimento’s Dance Prelude (first of three movements) is initially light-hearted but becomes quite serious and emphatic. Towards the end we have a major romantic climax. The Scherzo and Folk tune central movement betrays the influence of Arthur Bliss and drifts into Szymanowski territory at moments. The following Folk Tune is one of Goossens’ most uncomplicated pastoral sketches. It is a gem of a piece and is eloquently treated here. The final Ballet Flamenco has some hard-faced castanets, woodblocks and side drum. The piece was inspired by the dancing of flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya. Goossens conducted the orchestra when she danced de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance in Cincinnati in 1944. This can be added to the pictorial literature of Hispanic evocations which stretch from El Salon Mexico to Rhapsodie Espagnole. Vernon Handley’s performance and the wonderful recording accorded by ABC’s engineers completely outpace the Gaspare Chiarelli-conducted version once available on a Unicorn LP (RHS348).

The Variations on a Chinese Theme wind us back nearly fifty years. An innocent little theme of Chinese dip and lilt is put through its paces. The fifth, seventh and eighth variations hark back to Brahms while the sixth is much more modern in approach. The ninth is Dvořákian; the tenth like Tchaikovsky. The eleventh could easily have been a Vaughan Williams frolic out of The Wasps. The 12th is an uncomplicated serenade. The next variation is closer to the uncertain world and implicit threat of the music of Frank Bridge. This later vaporises and the music drifts into an impressionistic grand valse. The last variation begins in the mildly scary world of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker but soon resolves into a proto-Arnoldian English dance.

The Eternal Rhythm is from a year later but already Goossens is showing more individuality and there are far more hallmarks of his developed style. Goossens conducted the premiere at the Queen’s Hall on 19 October 1920. Sinuous clarinet melodies wind in and out through an orchestral mist worthy of the opening of Herrmann’s music for Citizen Kane. At 5.30 a Scriabinesque trumpet cries out to the heavens as, in 1939, he was to do with the whole of the expanded trumpet choir in the finale of his First Symphony. At 10.04 the twist in the notes is remarkable and intriguingly unsettling: French impressionism meets Russian mysticism; Janáček meets Debussy. Bax must have learnt from this voluptuous music as well. It is all well handled here although the awed trumpets faltered once or twice. At 17.50 there is a further misty passage which seems to predict the darker moments in Bax’s Second Symphony.

The final ten minute Kaleidoscope is an orchestral jeu d’esprit which may well be known to many in its solo piano version. It is a varied collection seemingly out of a child’s colouring book and music box; akin to Ma Mère L’Oye but with Stravinskian interpolations. Appropriately it opens with Good Morning and closes with … you’ve guessed it … Goodnight. The moon floats high in a Disneyesque night sky.

Design values throughout are excellent. Utterly superb photos adorn the cover and 24 page booklet. The biographical introduction is the same across each of the series. The 12 pages of English only notes are by Meurig Bowen and Philip Sametz and they cover each of the works in some detail.

Vernon Handley’s own perspective on Goossens is also there in the booklet: When I first heard Goossens in the flesh all my admiration was confirmed: authoritative, passionate, individual but never indulgent. I determined to look up this man’s compositions and found the same characteristics in evidence, Fashion has temporarily buried Goossens’ works but I hope their vitality and personality has been captured on these discs and will engage modern listeners. It has been a moving experience for me to repay in part my debt to him with these recordings.

The only regret is that ABC lacked the daring to add their long-deleted and LP-isolated recording of the opera Judith. OK it was conducted by Patrick Thomas but why not? We must also hope that ABC has not forgotten one of its most ambitious and impressively carried-through projects: Myer Fredman conducting Goossens’ epic The Apocalypse (based on The Book of Revelations and scored massively for orchestra, soli, choirs and orator). This was reocrded digitally in 1983 and should go onto a single well-crammed CD. It is perhaps too much to hope that Goossens’ opera Don Juan de Mañara would also receive its first ever commercial recording but we can live in hope.

Will ABC also now oblige with Goossens’ two Phantasy Concertos, piano (1944, suggested by an Edgar Allan Poe tale) and violin (1948), perhaps coupled with the Lyric Poem for violin and orchestra (1919), Three Pictures for flute, strings and percussion (1935)? The concertos are extremely rewarding works and well worth world premiere recordings.

Handley is not just a national treasure. His reach is international. ABC Classics would do well to encourage him back into the studio with works that he has always cherished such as Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony and other works which would blossom under his direction: Edgar Bainton’s visionary Third Symphony; Stanley Bate’s wartime Third, Bliss’s Beatitudes, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Cyril Rootham’s Second Symphony.

Meantime this set is most warmly recommended. If you enjoy Bax, Bridge, Szymanowski, Scriabin, Schmitt and the French voluptuaries this is for you. Glorious!

Rob Barnett



CD 1
Symphony No. 1, Op. 58 (1940)
Andante - Allegro con anima
Andante espressivo me con moto
Divertimento: Allegro vivo
Finale: Moderato - alla breve (con moto)
Oboe Concerto, Op. 45 (1927)
Joel Marangella oboe
Tam O'Shanter, Op. 17a (1919)
'Scherzo after Burns'
Concert Piece, Op. 65 (1958)*
Perpetuum mobile e buriesca
Joel Marangella oboe and cor anglais
Jane Geeson and Sebastien Lipman harps
West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Vernon Handley

CD 2
Symphony No. 2, Op. 62 (1945)*
Adagio - Vivace me non troppo
Andante tranquillo
Giocoso (Interlude)
Andante - Allegro con spirito
Concertino, Op. 47 (1928)
for double string orchestra
Allegro moderato - Andante tranquillo,
ma con moto - Allegro moderato
Fantasy, Op. 36 (1924)
for nine wind instruments
Moderato - Allegro moderato -
Andante - Allegro moderato
Janet Webb flute, Guy Henderson oboe, Lawrence Dobell and Christopher Tingay clarinets, John Cran and Fiona McNamara bassoons,Robert Johnson and Clarence Mellor horns,Daniel Mendelow trumpet
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Vernon Handley

CD 3
Divertissement, Op. 66 (1956-60)
Dance Prelude
Scherzo and Folk Tune
Ballet Flamenco
Variations on a Chinese Theme, Op. 1 (1911-12)
Theme (Allegro)
Var. 1 (Allegro)
Var. 2 [(Allegro)]
Var. 3 (Moderato)
Var. 4 (Allegro)
Var. 5 (Andante quasi Adagio)
Var. 6 (Scherzando)
Var. 7 (Andante quasi Adagio)
Var. 8 (Allegro)
Var. 9 (Allegro moderato)
Var. 10 (Tempo di Marcia)
Var. 11 (Semplice - Allegro)
Var. 12 (Tempo di Valse)
Finale (Allegro giusto)
The Eternal Rhythm, Op. 5 (1913)*
Kaleidoscope, Op. 18 (1917; 1933)
Good Morning
The Hurdy Gurdy Man
The March of the Wooden Soldier
Lament for a Departed Doll
The Old Musical Box
The Punch and Judy Show
Good Night
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Vernon Handley

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