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Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
The Complete Piano Music [137:27]
CD 1
Kaleidoscope, Op. 18 (Good Morning; Promenade; The Hurdy-Gurdy Man; March of the Wooden Soldier; The Rocking Horse; The Punch & Judy Show; A Ghost Story; The Old Musical Box; The Clockwork Dancer; Lament to a Departed Doll; A Merry Party; Good Night) (1917) [15:09]
Four Conceits, Op. 20 (Gargoyle; Dance Memories; Walking Tune; Marionette Show) (1917) [6:09]
Ships - three preludes for piano, Op. 42 (The Tug, The Tramp; The Liner) (1924) [8:20]
Two Studies, Op. 38 (Folk Tune; Scherzo) (1923) [5:42]
Homage to Paderewski (1941) [2:28]
Hommage à Debussy, Op. 28 (1937) [2:39]
Two Pieces, Op. 56 (Bonzo’s Dance; Pikki ‘s Lament) (1938) [3:23]
Capriccio (1960) [2:33]
Concert Study, Op. 10 (1914) [2:39]
Nature Poems, Op. 25 (Awakening; Pastorale; Bacchanal) (1919) [17:22]
CD 2
(Bach arr. Goossens) Andante from Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 (1932) [4:09]
Rhythmic Dance for two pianos, Op.30 (1920) [3:44]
Forlane and Toccata (1960) [4:46]
East of Suez – suite for piano, Op.33 (1922) [25:50]
L’Ecole en Crinoline – ballet, Op.29 (1921-22) [31:20]
Antony Gray (piano)
rec. CD1: 2-3 Oct 1995, 4 Sept 1996, Whitfield St Studios, London; CD2: 3-5, 10 March 1998, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Centre, Sydney. DDD
CD1 previously issued as ABC Classics 462 015-2
ABC CLASSICS 476 7636 [66:24 + 70:03]


Goossens is at long last coming into his own largely courtesy of the country that treated him like a pariah over a single indiscretion. ABC have named a concert hall after him. They have also recorded most of his orchestral music and issued this singly across three discs and most recently in a box. In 1999 they issued the first of the present two discs in the perceptive hands of pianist Antony Gray who also provides the notes which are a labour of love.

Kaleidoscope consists of twelve miniature pictures from childhood. These are imaginative and light-textured - a series of childhood vignettes. Antony Gray - who also wrote the booklet notes - gives a performance which seems to reflect considerable thought in recreating these twelve little worlds. The music is impressionistic with shades of Scarbo, Le Gibet and Petrushka but there’s also a dash or two of Warlock and Moeran along the way. The Four Conceits are from a similar sketchbook. Later the Conceits were issued in a version for orchestra and in this form were recorded by Goossens and his eponymous orchestra on Edison Bell Velvet Face 78s circa 1920. Goossens was obsessed with trains and boats and planes. The three sketches Ships reflect this but take a broader and more romantic line than the first two collections. The Debussy Homage (1937) has a wandering soft focus. The delicious Folk Tune is richly spun; contrasting with the spiky Scherzo. Bonzo and Pikki (family diary pages) are lovingly rendered, recalling Elgar's Mina. The flighty Capriccio recalls Bax's O Dame Get Up and Bake Your Cakes. The 1914 Concert Study is a thorny and slightly heartless fantasy of Graingerian brusqueness. The Nature Poems (1919) are dedicated to Goossens' friend Moiseiwitsch. These are easily the most impressive sequence on CD1: recalling Frank Bridge's piano sonata and Gargoyles. We are treated to floating veils of sound, a concentrated central Pastoral and a finale (Bacchanal) which is a joyous exploration of a highly emotional theme of Baxian shapeliness.

The second disc collects Goossens pieces from the periphery of his output. The Bach Andante fits neatly into a genre of Bach keyboard adaptation much alive in the 1920s and 1930s with other examples by RVW and Bax included in Bach volumes commissioned by or associated with Harriet Cohen. Antony Gray is twin-tracked in Rhythmic Dance which is cheerfully spiky and pummellingly Slav; its celebratory uproar occasionally recalls Grainger at one moment and Rachmaninov at another. The diptych Forlane and Toccata was one of Goossens’ last completed works. The music has a higher than usual quotient of dissonance though modest really. It recalls the piano music of Bernard van Dieren in its dankness. It also seems to relate to the lichen-hung mood of his own miniature orchestral piece By The Tarn which was recorded on EMI by Richard Hickox but nicely done years before on the BBC by Myer Fredman. The titles and style also proclaim a link with the early music movement. The East of Suez music was written for a 1922 production of the Somerset Maugham play. The producer was Basil Dean who several years later was to produce Flecker’s Hassan - an other exotic subject - with Delius’s music. The original East of Suez production starred Basil Rathbone. The theatre orchestra for which it was written comprised a standard small theatre orchestra plus harp, piano and percussion. For some reason he never made an orchestral suite but a five movement piano suite was published. Here we get the Overture, Incidental music to Scene 1, A street in Pekin, Prelude to Scene 3 - Buddhist Temple; Prelude to Scene 4: The Anderson’s House; Prelude to Scene 5: Courtyard of the Temple. The suite has a distinctly Chinese accent mixed with infusions of Ravel, clangorous, awed, innately ominous even threatening, psychologically oppressive. Only in the overture and final prelude are there flashes of cheery ‘rickshaw’ energy. The language stays clear of shudderingly embarrassing Ketèlbeyisms and links with comparable works from that era by Lambert, Bliss and Holbrooke (Piano Concerto The Orient). There are nineteen numbers in Goossens’ ballet score L’Ecole en Crinoline. The piece was written in 1921-22 while Goossens was conducting for the Diaghilev ballet company. Spiced with wrong-note harmony this score follows a track associated with Lord Berners and with Stravinsky in some of his two piano music. The scenario takes a frilly inconsequential tale involving ballerinas, a dancing school, dreams, a curate, fainting and suchlike. Some of it reminded me of Bax’s attempt at a Diaghilev ballet: The Truth About Russian Dancers. Real mastery surfaces from time to time e.g. with tr. 21 Amelia dashes the dunces’ cap from her head which sounds, in this context, as incongruously dark as Bax’s Winter Waters and sections of his Second Piano Sonata. Much of this score seems to be at triple forte - a little more differentiation of dynamic might have been welcome from Goossens ... or is it from Mr Gray. Otherwise Mr Gray is a highly sympathetic and powerful exponent of this music; certainly not an apologist.

As for the competition there is an excellent disc by Jeremy Filsell on Guild. He also twin-tracks with himself in Rhythmic Dance, a piece which has been championed by that virtuoso of the pianola, Michael Broadway. The Forlane and Toccata was recorded on LP by Michael G Thomas on clavichord. Alan Cuckston, in his valuable British piano music series, recorded the Nature Poems on his own label and Eric Parkin broadcast the sequence for the BBC in 1987. Raphael Terroni recorded a particularly characterful Kaleidoscope for the BMS  in 1981 but that was only ever issued on cassette. Richard Rodney Bennett recorded Folk Tune for Polydor circa 1972 and this has since been reissued by EMI Classics with the rest of the collection including Lambert’s Piano Concerto.

If you already have the admirable ABC box which presents much of Goossens’ work for orchestra on three CDs then you will need this set as a perfect complement. What we now also need is recordings of his two string quartets, his two Phantasy Concertos (piano, 1937 and violin, 1959); the Cowboy Fantasy (a relic of the conductor’s Cincinnati days in the 1940s), his operas Don Juan de Mañara and Judith as well as his most imposing work: The Apocalypse. ABC have the latter in their archives from an LP and cassette issued in the mid-1980s.

Another required acquisition for British music enthusiasts or anyone wanting to track the path of imaginative piano music during the first half of the last century.

Rob Barnett


Buywell Just Classical



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