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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]

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

If you’re looking for a cornerstone collection of the orchestral music of Eugene Goossens this is quite obviously the set you’ve been waiting for. With the exception of the two Phantasy Concertos it collates pretty much everything you will ever want from him symphonically and orchestrally. It does so in performances of such assurance and perception that it will be a good long while before their integrity will be breached, if ever. They have that Lyrita stamp of authority about them. Handley maximises that near greatness of the stronger works and manages, Boult-like, to perform noble architectural surgery to the few that are less than inspired.

Disc One starts with the big First Symphony, a splendidly conceived work. It has plenty of tense moments but they’re stealthily infiltrated by romantic reverie itself interrupted, but never overcome, by some incisive martial tread. The second movement picks up the adept wind writing of the first - he had a perfect grounding in writing for the winds, given his brothers’ mastery. It spins a sensitive string line – he had after all been a first class violinist and a member of the Philharmonic Quartet, one of Britain’s finest around the First War - (he recorded single quartet movements with them for HMV). But what impresses most here is the colour. The glockenspiel adds a certain filmic gloss and the avian flute writing lends an Impressionist air; conflicting influences maybe but I think successfully resolved and modulated. Baleful brass appear in the scherzo accompanied by something of the heavy élan of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. What a superbly verdant tune he spins over the "railway" percussion – shades of his contemporary Darius Milhaud churning out train rhythm movements during trans-American railway journeys. The finale returns us to dynamism and contrast, bellicosity alternating with more withdrawn and sullen gestures, a fugato and a flaring brass-crowned ending.

The Oboe Concerto is one of his better-known works, a compact twelve-minute study written for León, whose recording of it remains famous to this day. Fanfare and pastoral, seamless lyricism and intelligently sectional, Goossens spins a burnished string cantilever as good as most of his English contemporaries. Vaguely Delian though it can sound and laced with a stronger, very English pastoral and march patina, I’ve always found this rather a violinistic work.

Tam O’Shanter is a fizzy three-minute number but the Concert Piece is a bolder and bigger affair, though sporting a determinedly nondescript nomenclature. Goossens seems vaguely to flirt with the tone row here, and it adds to a palpable sense of unease and intoning disquiet; an impression reinforced by a "knocking on the door motif" heard early on. This tension is dispelled by the middle movement, which is by contrast a warm reverie, innocent and full of rippling harp arpeggios. The finale presents a series of nostalgic reflections – waltz themes and a retreat from the combative opening into something almost Tarkovskyian; a sustained reverie of intimacy and private communing.

The second disc replicates the symmetry of the first by giving us the Second Symphony. Again in four movements this is a more withdrawn and less highly coloured work than the earlier symphony. There is a sense of inward melancholy that, despite some warm string melody, can’t ever be quite effaced. He spins the folk melody The Turtle Dove in the second movement but there are plenty of fraught moments along the way as well, a feeling reinforced by the third movement’s thickly textured and ominous insistence. He reprises themes in the finale and adds some powerful brass-led marches to end a work that is complex and strong-limbed, assertive and yet sometimes gnomically opaque. Like its companion it’s a wartime symphony but written at the end of the war and it’s not unreasonable to view it in that light.

The Concertino is a sinewy neo-classical excursion but one chock-full of character – and offers roles for solo strings. It’s a springy work, approachable and delightful. It’s surely not beyond programmers’ wits to open a concert with it and at thirteen minutes it surely wouldn’t tax listeners’ attention spans. The second disc ends with the Fantasy for Winds with its very Russian-sounding sonorities, peppy and lugubrious in turn and laced with some perky and delicious dialogues between instruments; ten minutes of invention and imagination.

The final disc is a valuable survey of some other important Goossens works. The Divertissement is a roistering affair with off-beat percussion crashes and some increasingly malevolent pressing lower brass to keep easy expectation at bay. The delightfully harmonised folk-tune in the second movement, on the clarinet, has just enough tartness to keep it quivering and never sinks into easy farmland. The finale is plucky, full of rhythmic verve and packs quite a punch. Never underestimate Goossens’ talent for frolicsome dance and drama. The Variations on a Chinese Theme was his Op.1 and Dvořák stalks it followed in succession by Brahms and Rachmaninov, a deal of ballet and a puckish Viennese waltz.

The Eternal Rhythm followed soon after and was premiered in 1920. This is an altogether bigger work, though it’s shorter in terms of timing, and shows a far more energised and more up-to-date cosmopolitan outlook, drawing on the then in-vogue Scriabin as one of his primary influences - though as ever with Goossens, his Belgian inheritance tended to the Franco-Belgian in terms of musical influence. It serves notice of the powerful colourist and orchestrator to come and is a key work in his output. The final work is Kaleidoscope, which also exists in a version for solo piano. It glitters in whichever version, from Bright Young Thing sparkle or the faux funereal, from Liadov’s Music Box to the jaunty insouciance of a man about town.

The majority of these are studio recordings though the Second Symphony for example was recorded at a concert – where the audience remained commendably quiet. The works are parcelled out to three orchestras, all of which perform with galvanic zest and corporate imagination. The notes are full and informative, the recorded sound fine and the set as a whole is a splendid example of imaginative loyalty to a single composer corpus. If you have ever gleaned the idea that Goossens is inclined to grey modernism or to windy rhetoric, try this three-disc set and prepare to have your preconceptions well and truly shattered.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by John Phillips and Rob Barnett


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