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 (ABC), 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 of painters.
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.
John France 

Brings its own added value for the price of one budget disc.