MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
Orchestral Works

CD1 [79:55]
Symphony No.1, Op.58 (1940) [42:02]
Oboe Concerto, Op.45 (1927) [12:22]
Tam O’Shanter, Op.17a (1919) [3:10]
Concert Piece for two harps, oboe (doubling cor anglais) and orchestra, Op.65 (1958) [22:00] *
Joel Marangella, oboe and cor anglais; Jane Geeson (harp); Sebastien Lipman (harp).
West Australian Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
CD2 [61:57]
Symphony No.2, Op.62 (1945) [38:26]*
Concertino, Op.47 (1928) [13:05] *
Fantasy for Nine Winds, Op.36 (1924) [9:58]
Janet Webb (flute); Guy Henderson (oboe); Lawrence Dobell and Christopher Tingay (clarinet); John Cran and Fiona McNamara (bassoon); Robert Johnson and Clarence Mellor (horn); Daniel Mendelow (trumpet)
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley.
CD 3 [76:12]
Divertissement, Op.66 (1956-60) [18:37]
Variations on a Chinese Theme, Op. 1 (1911–12) [27:58]
The Eternal Rhythm, Op.5 (1913) [20:24] *
Kaleidoscope, Op.18 (1917, 1933) [9:50]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley
* denotes world premiere recording
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]

Error processing SSI file

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 etc review

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 and conducted.

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.

Goossens’ writing 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 Australia.

Goossens’ musical 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 music.

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."

Tam O’Shanter 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 minutes.

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 Lipman.

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 con spirito.

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.

John Phillips

see also review by Rob Barnett





Return to Index

Error processing SSI file