Sir Eugene GOOSSENS(1893-1962) Complete Music for Violin and Piano
Violin Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.21 (1918) [22:20] Lyric Poem, Op.35 (1919-1920) [9:17] Old Chinese Folk-Song (from the Yang-tse-Kiang), Op.4, No.1
(1912) [1:47] Romance (from Act III of Don Juan de Mañara),
Op.57 (1937) [5:51]
Violin Sonata No.2, Op.50 (1930) [32:20]
Robert Gibbs (violin); Gusztáv Fenyő (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk 16-17 April 2011, DDD
NAXOS 8.572860 [71:34]
Eugene Goossens is one of the great unsung composers of British
music. Fêted for his performances as a conductor, his
extensive list of music has been effectively forgotten over
the years since his death. Although his symphonic works have
been released on CD (ABC)
many are not currently quoted in the catalogues although there
is a good Chandos
disc. A number of bits and pieces appear on compilations
and various recitals. There are recordings of his piano music
some chamber works (Chandos)
and songs currently available. The present edition of the Complete
Violin Music is a welcome addition to the repertoire. However
it has to be pointed out that all the works on this disc are
already available on the two excellent CDs published by Guild
in 1996 (GMCD7120; GMCD7133). These featured the violinist Oliver
Lewis and pianist Jeremy Filsell.
The Violin Sonata No.1 in E minor is a striking work that deserves
its place in the repertoire of all violinists. Written in 1918,
it reflects the influence of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.
Yet there is nothing of pastiche here. This sonata is full of
‘vigorous and rhapsodic’ writing that never flags.
The work is cast in three largely equal movements. It begins
with an ‘allegro’ that balances and juxtaposes two
strong themes, which are transformed and developed with surprising
resourcefulness. The slow movement, a fine ‘adagio,’
is based on a beautiful melody that is used as the basis of
a fantasy. This is romantic music of the highest order - yet
it is never sentimental or mawkish. It is possible to see this
in terms of landscape or emotions; however, the listener will
be left with the impression that this is one of the most gorgeous
pieces of music from the pen of an Englishman.
It demands to be better known. The work concludes with what
may be regarded as a ‘scherzo.’ This is in complete
contrast to the preceding movement, but is still part of the
work’s overall balance and compositional strength. The
lovely ‘trio’ tune has echoes of Arnold Bax.
The Sonata No.1 was given its premiere during May 1920. The
soloists were the violinist Albert Sammons, the sonata’s
dedicatee, and William Murdoch.
The Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano resulted from a request
from the Polish-born violinist Paul Kochanski, who taught at
the Juilliard School of Music. It was completed in 1930 and
was duly given its premiere at the Bradford Music Club on 20
January 1931. The two soloists were once again Albert Sammons
and William Murdoch. The reviewer in The Times suggested that
it was “… big music which builds up coherently into
a firm structure more than capable of carrying its rich decoration,
its vigorous impulse … Its interest is mainly harmonic.
Clashes and negation of tonality are transitory.”
The work is in three movements. The opening ‘Moderato
con anima’ is loosely related to sonata-form - however
Goossens takes three themes that interact rather than provide
the more traditional structure: the effect is seamless rather
than compartmentalised. This is largely reflective music. The
second movement is an ‘Intermezzo’, which appears
to be written in binary form. The opening theme is once again
melancholy. Although the score suggests that this is ‘A
la Sicilienne’ this is abstracted, diffuse music that
is typically haunting and unsettling. Certainly, this is not
an ‘intermezzo’ in any ‘traditional’
sense. There is more melancholy and obscurity in the opening
of the last movement - molto moderato. This, to quote the composer,
exhibits ‘lyrical intensity.’ However, all is swept
away by the irruption of an ‘allegro’ theme dominates
the movement until the radiant coda concludes this fine sonata.
I agree with R.H. Hull who suggests that this Sonata is characterised
by ‘grace and distinction at every point’. This
is an urbane work that reveals the composer’s excellent
compositional technique and his determination to uphold the
precepts lyrical music no matter how ‘advanced’
the harmonies and formal structures may appear on paper.
I have not consciously listened to the Lyric Poem, Op.35
before. This ten-minute work was composed between 1919-1920
and is dedicated to André Mangeot, who was leader of
the International String Quartet. The music develops from a
dramatic, but also enigmatic opening cadenza through an improvisatory
melodic development towards a muted ending. This is heart-achingly
beautiful music. R.H. Hull writing in Music & Letters in
October 1931 has noted that this work has ‘an easy grace
and melodic spontaneity far removed from the abstract intellectualism
responsible, in earlier works, for a tendency to coldness and
inhumanity.’ The Lyric Poem also exists in a version
for violin and orchestra.
The ‘way too short’ Old Chinese Folk-song
is a sheer delight. This is not like some Ketèlbey confection
written for the salon. It is a genuinely researched little miniature.
In fact the composer went down to London’s Chinese quarter
in Limehouse to listen to authentic material. Naturally, this
is couched in a ‘Western’ musical language. The
piece was also arranged for cello and piano. Enthusiasts of
Goossens will also know the composer’s fine Op.1 - the
Variations on a Chinese Theme (1911/1912).
I do like the Romance for violin and piano which was
derived from Goossens totally forgotten opera Don Juan de
Mañara (1937). The work was ‘extracted’
as a ‘free transcription’ from the pages of the
score by the composer and was dedicated to Heifetz. The languid
piece has a definite Mediterranean feel to it. The harmonies
are slippery and deliciously chromatic, the melody is lyrical.
This is the stuff that dreams are made of, especially on a cold
Easter Saturday in the North of England.
The sound quality is good. The playing by Robert Gibbs and Gusztáv
Fenyő sounds excellent and appears to be accurate, although
I have not followed these works in the scores. The liner-notes
which are written by the present pianist are instructive. Finally,
I loved the cover picture of Mornington Crescent by Spencer
Frederick Gore (1878-1914) who was one of the Camden Town group
It is not a question of which of the two available versions
is the better performance. Each interpretation brings its own
added value. I guess it is more to do with ‘packaging’.
This CD gives all the fiddle works for the price of one budget
disc. The Guild version is on two mid-price CDs. However these
have the added value of Sonatas by Elgar, Howard Ferguson and
John Ireland thrown into the mix. Even those listeners, who
like me, already have the Oliver Lewis/Jeremy Filsell versions
of these works will want to own this present CD.
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