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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op.36 (1801) [32:57]
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Danse Macabre in G minor, Op.40 (1874) [6:57]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op.56 Scottish (1842) [35:16]
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens
Rec. Great Hall, University of Sydney, April 1952
HISTORIC RECORDINGS HRCD00018 [75:12]

I last heard Eugene Goossens’s 1952 recording of Beethoven’s Second Symphony in the context of a 5-CD set devoted to the 75th anniversary of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which was released on ABC Classics 476 5957 (see review). I gave it a brief mention, given the fact that there was much to get through in the box, but coming back to it after five years - is it really five years? - makes me realise yet again how sane and perceptive is the reading. It was the first symphony-scaled commercial recording made by the orchestra, and as I wrote in the previous review, it’s a broadly traditional treading, alert, and vital, with sane tempi and an acute ear both for stylistic niceties and orchestral balances. Its restoration once again tilts the Goossens discography a little more toward the standard repertory; he’s these days probably better known from his more catholic, twentieth century or Russian discs.
 
This disc focuses on some of Goossens’s Sydney LP recordings. Thus the other symphony is Mendelssohn’s Third, recorded just about a fortnight before the Beethoven, in April 1952. It was bold of HMV to tape two such canonic works, but they and the orchestra seem to have embarked on a spirit of symphonic enterprise with freshness and invention. That said, the international competition, in the Mendelssohn alone, was colossal. Steinberg in Pittsburgh, Klemperer in Vienna, and Solti in London had all made their claim, much less Rodzinski in Chicago and Mitropoulos in Minneapolis. Denizens of pre-Beatles Liverpool could buy Sargent’s recording with the local band and Weingartner had chipped in with the orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society a number of years before. Not quite saturation then, but not far off, for the time. Fortunately, Goossens’ performance stands up well. It’s attractively buoyant, unexaggerated and stirring when necessary. The Danse Macabre was recorded the following day. It would be interesting to know who led the orchestra at the time.
 
This disc preserves much of the Goossens Sound, in the main. That said, the transfer of the Beethoven sounds much more compressed than the rival ABC, which is far more potent and present. That applies to a slightly less extent in the Mendelssohn but it nevertheless the fact that a rather better case could be made for it than here. But if you fancy experiencing Goossens in this repertoire you won’t go seriously adrift.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Beethoven symphony 2 ~~ Mendelssohn symphony 3