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Eugene Goossens conducts Russian orchestral classics
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Russian Easter Festival Overture op. 36 (1888) [14:38]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1910)
Poem of Ecstasy op. 54 (1905-8) [19:28]
Mili BALAKIREV (1836-1910)
Islamey - Oriental Fantasy (1869, 1902 orch. Alfredo Casella, 1907) [9:42]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874, orch. Maurice Ravel, 1922) [33:23]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Eugene Goossens (Rimsky, Scriabin, Balakirev)
Royal Philharmonic Orchesta/Eugene Goossens (Mussorgsky)
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 13-14 February 1956 (Rimsky, Scriabin); 8 February 1956 (Balakirev); 26, 28 September 1957 (Mussorgsky) ADD. stereo
MEDICI ARTS MM009-2 [77:47]



Goossens' career had a starry trajectory across three continents but ended in scandal, disappointment, ill health and death. The last is unavoidable but his final years had the tragic air of a man trapped by the mean-spiritedness of others.
 
His forte was music of the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century - especially the exotic. His activities as a composer were substantial and spanned the whole of his life. In his works the exotic and the late-romantic to modern can be heard. It is no surprise to read that he conducted the orchestra for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and the theatre orchestra for Delius's music for Flecker's Hassan. He also had substantial tenures as chief conductor of the Cincinnati and Sydney orchestras.
 
The present astonishing recordings, originally made for EMI, belong to the last chapter of his life after the return from Australia.
 
His Russian Easter Festival is memorable for its sense of whirling frenzy and for a passion that is Tchaikovskian: ironic given Tchaikovsky’s aversion for the Kouchka's nationalism. The violin solos sound very much as if they might be at the hands of Hugh Bean - oddly redolent of the famous Bean-Boult recording of The Lark Ascending. The Scriabin has a wonderfully sustained plastic pulse and the brass playing is nothing short of possessed in much the same way as that of Golovanov's orchestra but with the warbling wind vibrato omitted. The very early stereo sound registers agreeably - especially below forte. Listen to the neatly detailed harps at the end of the Scriabin. It has a really gutsy impact in the Balakirev which is fascinating because I did not recall having heard the magnificently garish Casella orchestration before: Islamey is better known on CD in the orchestration by Liapunov. The downside is that the textures can congeal on occasions where Casella opts for devastating weight rather than transparency. Goossens gives the work a groaningly barbaric performance with the Rimskian frenzy still in evidence from earlier in the session. Goossens was not going to permit anything gentlemanly or 1950s-staid from the Philharmonia.
 
I wonder who the principal trumpet of the RPO was in September 1957 for Mussorgsky's Pictures. He certainly deserves praise for such a forthright regal delivery in The Promenade - one of many highlights in a performance in which thunderous power is in the ascendancy over subtlety.   Those final chordal smashes in The Great Gate of Kiev must have tested the styluses of the time.
 
Let's have more Goossens to supplement the better know but intermittently available Everest recordings. While we wait, this generous collection shows us Goossens in repertoire well suited to his prodigious and eloquent imagination.
 
Rob Barnett
 



 


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