Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)

Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Kaleidoscope - Suite for Children Op. 18 (1933) [9:49]
Tam o'Shanter, Scherzo for Orchestra Op. 17a (1918-19) [3:38]
Three Greek Dances for small orchestra, Op. 44 (1926, revised 1927) [10:06]
Concert Piece for oboe/cor anglais, two harps, and orchestra, Op. 65 (1957) [21:57]
Four Conceits - Suite, Op. 20 (1918) [6:44]
Variations on Cadet Rousselle (French Folk-Song) (1930) [3:47]
Two Nature Poems, Op. 25 (1937-38) [11:19]
Intermezzo from Don Juan de Mañara, Op. 54 (1935) [6:22]
Jeff Crellin (oboe; cor anglais); Marshall Maguire (harp I); Alannah Guthrie-Jones (harp II)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
rec. Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 15-16 June 2010, 5 September 2011, 7 September 2012

The final touches to this disc were made in September 2012. It’s good therefore that it forms part of the rather muted anniversary events to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of a man who was respected both in the UK and much further afield. This respect was not only as composer but also as conductor. He worked in Australia after 1947 but also lived in Cincinnati in the 1930s. He was a true cosmopolitan and to a great extent his music is a reflection of the man.
This sense of internationalism can be heard in the Two Nature Poems. These are orchestrations of twenty-year old piano pieces. In the first, a Pastoral, it is not really an English scene painted in these rich Delius-plus colours nor is it Australian or American. There is something warmly European about it which does not fit into any category. The ensuing Bacchanal, it might be thought, is a wild drinks party being held in some warm Mediterranean villa.
The disc opens with Goossens' own orchestration of eight of his miniature piano pieces entitled Kaleidoscope - subtitled “A Suite for Children”. Here we have titles like ‘The Musical Box’ scored for piccolo, pizzicato violins and celesta, a rather Stravinskian ‘Punch and Judy Show’ and a dreamy ‘Goodnight’, all beautifully and colourfully realised.
A brief ten minute ballet sequence, originally called ‘Three Pagan Hymns’ was conceived for the 1920s ballet star Margaret Morris. Realising that they might not get another airing Goossens re-titled these colourfully striking excursions into exotica Three Greek Dances. Don’t get thinking that Skalkottas is looking over his shoulder: they are not overtly rhythmic or pagan for that matter but rather luxurious. The third dance hardly gets going before it is wound up.
The CD ends with the dramatic and also quite beautiful Intermezzo from a grand opera first produced at Covent Garden on the eve of the Second World War, Don Juan de Mañara. It’s quite typical that apart from a 1959 broadcast, one of Goossens’ finest works has disappeared without a trace. Its plot is somewhat melodramatic but this Intermezzo is distinctly worth a hearing.
It’s interesting how listener’s perceptions change with the years. I plucked off my shelf the book ‘Composer’s Gallery’ by Donald Brook (The Thornton Press, 1946). There Goossens was interviewed. Brook wrote that his “compositions are chiefly in the chromatic idiom; they are modern and experimental without being freakish, although his earlier works suggested that he might develop in other directions.” He speaks of the composer’s fascination with things Chinese and exotic. You would have thought that a piece like Tam o’Shanter, described as a Scherzo for Orchestra and written when the composer was in his mid-twenties, might constitute an early work, yet in the excellent booklet essay by the inimitable Lewis Foreman it is pointed out that, at the time, the work would “have been regarded as the acceptable face of modern music”. It now appears, with its suitably Irish compound time bouncy rhythm to be just a fun piece of light music. Perhaps a more challenging piece from this period might have been a chamber work such as the rather Debussian Four Sketches Op. 5 of 1913 which worth finding on Chandos CHAN10259.
Also written when he was about 24 was the Four Conceits, orchestrated by the composer from the piano original. These are delicately carved jewels or as Lewis Foreman describes them “aphoristic essays”. One is called ‘The Gargoyle’; the last is ‘The Marionette Show’. Again the brilliance of the orchestration is what especially fascinates.
I suspect that the Variations on ‘Cadet Rousselle’are simply recorded here for completeness, as this was just one contribution with three other composers including Frank Bridge and Arnold Bax in a collaborative piece for critic Edwin Evans. Originally it was for soprano and piano but is given here in the composer’s orchestration. It’s certainly colourful, which it need to be given its rather flimsy material.
With this talk about Goossens’ idiomatic orchestration one should remember that he was a professional instrumentalist in the Queens’ Hall Orchestra, and later a much sought after conductor having worked under Beecham, for much of his life in England and America and later in Australasia. In fact he conducted the first London performance of Le Sacre du Printemps.
The longest work on the CD was also one of his last. It’s the three movement Concert Piece . This isscored for oboe, doubling cor anglais, played by originally by Leon Goossens and two harps first played by the sisters Marie and Sidonie Goossens. This was clearly a right family affair but a happy and highly original one. The orchestra is used delicately but there are twelve-tone passages, would you believe, and some fascinating harmonies. The middle movement, not surprisingly, recall the open prairie spaces of Aaron Copland and the finale quotes other composers; there is even a snatch of Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers. The three soloists Jeff Crellin, Marshall Maguire and Alannah Guthrie-Jones are perfect substitutes and I suspect could not possibly have come across the work before the recording sessions although there is an earlier recording on ABC Classics (review).
Indeed these eight works have rarely been heard. Sir Andrew Davis, taking over this series from the late lamented Richard Hickox (see review of Volume 1), clearly understands what is required to make them live and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra respond enthusiastically. If you are new to Eugene Goossens I would certainly commend this disc as an ideal place to start.
Gary Higginson 

If you are new to Eugene Goossens I would certainly commend this disc as an ideal place to start. 

See also review by John France

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