Once available separately as:-
CD1 ABC CLASSICS 462 014-2 Symphony
1 etc review
CD2 ABC CLASSICS 442 364-2 Symphony
2 etc. review
CD3 ABC CLASSICS 462 766-2 Divertissement
ABC has earned our
gratitude for providing us with this
three disc compilation of a substantial
portion of Goossens’ output all presented
in excellent sound and superbly played
Isn’t it interesting
that it takes an Australian company
using first class Australian orchestras
to promote a Belgian-born, British
conductor-composer with this collection
of his orchestral pieces. The ‘local’
input comes from Vernon Handley, England’s
premier English music conductor.
In what turned out
to be his final decade Goossens’ private
life took him rapidly from international
success as a much admired, popular
conductor to social outcast. If his
activities had been discovered in
a contemporary musician, I doubt if
anything at all would have happened,
given the changes in our standards.
style shows a highly competent musical
imagination at work, with none of
these works, even his first effort,
being totally dismissable. None of
them, I would suggest, is a masterpiece,
but given the paucity of much contemporary
classical output, there is an enormous
quantity of music in this set to enjoy.
His writing style is completely tonal,
with not much in the way of clashing
harmonies, and there is direct evidence
of development of the musical themes
with clear and definite climaxes.
His tunes could be a little more distinctive,
but there are much worse about.
When Naxos distributed
ABC recordings a few years ago, I
owned one of the discs in this set,
so I am not sure whether all of this
output has been available before.
I would expect, given the recording
dates that all of these recordings
have been available previously, but
this issue is the first time I have
been aware of their presence beyond
life started as a violinist, playing
in a quartet. He then migrated to
orchestral positions, finally joining
Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra.
Goossens regularly conducted the Diaghilev
Ballets when the Ballets Russes were
in the U.K. He also mounted London
concerts of modern works with a specially
engaged orchestra – a very risky business
even then. Activities such as this
gave him well-earned publicity and
various invitations came his way from
the U.S. Given these activities and
his playing in contemporary orchestras,
he must have been well versed in how
to write for orchestra, and this is
clearly evident in his orchestral
Disc 1 starts with
his Symphony No. 1, written when the
composer was in his mid-forties, a
relatively long wait for a symphony
- with a well known precedent. It
is in four movements, Andante-Allegro
con anima, Andante expressivo
ma con moto, Divertimento-Allegro
vivo, and Finale-Moderato –
alla breve (con moto).
The reason for his waiting for so
long was apparently that in his profession
as conductor he had heard such mediocre
work from a variety of young composers
that he felt unable to join their
company. Strong symphonic development
is certainly evident here.
We then move on to
the Oboe Concerto, in one movement,
played very expertly by Joel Marangella.
This work was written for and premiered
by Goossens’ brother, the famous Leon
Goossens at a 1930 Henry Wood Prom,
with Wood conducting. It was contemporaneously
described as "indulging in no far-fetched
virtuosities, by concision it avoids
tedium, the songful section has intrinsical
musical quality, yet is not for the
voice that sings it."
then follows, quite different
from Malcolm Arnold’s well known overture
on the same subject. This very early
work shows the composer wrestling
(very successfully) with the resources
of a large orchestra. I found this
short scherzo very enjoyable lasting
as it does for only just over three
The Concert Piece
is written for oboe (doubling
cor anglais) and two harps with orchestra.
It was premiered again by Leon plus
his two harpist sisters Sidonie (of
BBC Symphony Orchestra fame) and Marie.
This three movement work is entirely
based upon the pizzicato and trumpet
motifs heard in the first two opening
bars. Based upon the writing it is
obvious that the composer was showing
off the undoubted abilities of his
three siblings. In this recording,
both the oboe and cor anglais parts
are played by Joel Marangella, and
the two harps by Jane Geeson and Sebastien
Symphony No.2 which
opens disc 2, was completed only five
years after its predecessor in 1945.
Given when it was composed, it is
not surprising that the Second World
War had much to do with its genesis.
It is large, tough and angry and was
written in the USA, in Maine, Cincinnati,
Seattle and New York. It is also,
like its predecessor, in four movements,
Adagio-Vivace ma non troppo,
Andante tranquillo, Giocoso
(Interlude) and Andante-Allegro
The Concertino for
double string orchestra was written
originally for chamber ensemble (string
octet). Goossens later added the double
bass part for orchestral performance
so it can be played in either form.
Here, the more difficult orchestral
version is played.
The Op.36 Fantasy
for nine wind instruments is a continuous
four section work which looks to Walton
and Stravinsky for inspiration. It
is beautifully written and deserves
to be better known. The wind soloists
from the Sydney Symphony orchestra
shine brightly in this performance.
Disc 3 opens with
the Divertissement written
in three movements. It was the composer’s
last work, written during his difficult
period with the Australian authorities.
Originally to be premiered in Holland
with the composer conducting, this
didn’t happen because of the composer’s
death. It was premiered instead, by
the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under
Joseph Post in 1963. It is in three
dance movements, all of which were
written previously as piano pieces.
We then hear Goossen’s
Op. 1, Variations on a Chinese
Theme, written under the tutelage
of Stanford, his teacher at the Royal
College in 1910. Written originally
for piano solo, Stanford was sufficiently
impressed to get the composer to orchestrate
the work. Stanford also arranged to
include the work in a concert on June
12th 1912. These variations
were given with Weber’s Oberon
Overture, Lalo’s Symphonie
espagnole, and Dukas’s L’apprenti
sorcier. In addition to mounting
the work, Stanford also let the 19
year old composer conduct it - his
first proper outing as a conductor.
We then move to The
Eternal Rhythm which is another
early work, premiered at the 1920
Proms by Sir Henry Wood. It was also
featured in the inaugural concert
of the International Society of Contemporary
Music in December 1922, with the composer
conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.
It is a reasonably long work (20 mins)
and is an exercise in dreamy impressionism,
in the style of Strauss, Ravel and
Debussy - a remarkable achievement
for a 20 year old composer.
This three disc set
is completed by Kaleidoscope,
which is an orchestration of eight
miniatures from a set of twelve, written
for piano in 1917. They are largely
about toys of various natures; charming
little pieces, beautifully orchestrated.
This should give much pleasure, approached
at the right level.
As all of the music
is pretty rare in the repertoire,
it is difficult to judge whether these
performances are the best that one
could get – what is sure is that they
are the only ones available at present.
With Vernon Handley’s extremely high
reputation in the field of British
music, and given that these performances
feel right, with plenty of committed
playing from all three excellent orchestras,
you may be sure that not much better
is likely to come along in the foreseeable
future. I enjoyed this set very much,
and I can heartily recommend it to
anyone looking for out of the ordinary
music of the last century.
see also review
by Rob Barnett