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Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
The Apocalypse (1949-1954) [78:29]
Grant Dickson (bass: John the Evangelist), Gregory Yurisich (baritone: A Great Voice), Ronald Dowd (tenor: An Elder), Narelle Tapping and Lauris Elms (mezzo-sopranos: Angels), Raymond McDonald (tenor: A Voice from Heave, Angel)
Sydney Philharmonia Choir
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Myer Fredman
rec. live Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 13 November 1982
LYRITA SRCD371 [78:29]

In his thoughtful and incisive review of this disc Paul Corfield Godfrey hammers several nails securely on the head. My impressions of the recording should be read as supplementary to his, and therefore as a far briefer overview on the merits and occasional limitations of a work that very few will have heard and very few, indeed, will have heard of.

The Apocalypse occupied Goossens between 1949 and 1954, according to the track listing, and 1943-54 according to Rob Barnett’s thorough and revealing booklet essay. Either way it was a substantial undertaking and led to very few performances; the Sydney premiere on 22 November 1954 was followed by a repeat the day after and there were two performances in London the following year. A long gap followed until Myer Fredman’s performance which was released on LP and is the basis for this CD issue.

It’s a work that shivers with tension, a tension established from the very start and that seldom really lets up. The text’s rigorous bleakness and blackness, drawn from The Revelation of St John the Divine and selected by the Rev. Frank Moore in conjunction with the composer, offers plenty of opportunities for baleful cataclysm but far fewer for compensatory elements. It’s perhaps for this reasons that sepulchre and the Bottomless Pit resound more fully in the musical memory than the mystic New Heaven; if this suggests an unbalanced work, then so be it. Yet Goossens’s vision is itself gripping and rewards focused listening.

The overwhelming Vision of the Glory of God and Book of Destiny with overlapping choral entries, like giant waves of sound, prepare the listener for the screwed-up tension to come, though it’s noticeable that in the Opening of the Seals, Goossens reverts, orchestrally speaking, to a modified impressionism in his wind writing. The first part of the oratorio ends in a triumphant blaze of sound, conveyed by the uneven choral forces and the well-drilled Sydney Symphony. Relief of a sort comes in the interlude between the acts though the martial brass calls, orchestral vehemence and exotic dance of The Worship of the Beast – a kind of Aleister Crowley in music – ratchets tension once more. The work’s most beautiful moments come in the rarefied cantilena of The Song of the Elect whereas the choral melismas in The Song of the Victors adds another gloss to Goossens’s choral means in this work. It is right, albeit predictable, that the baleful The Binding of Satan should be followed by the Elysian lightness of A New Heaven, the whole concluding with a modern day Handelian Alleluia. Enthusiastic applause is retained.

When it came to the performance, the Sydney Philharmonia Choir was augmented by other local choirs and the arrangement clearly generated tensions in rehearsal and problems in performance. For so vast a work, the massive chorus sounds under pressure in some of the more demanding music – and much of the music is demanding. Similarly the singers have to cope with some formidable technical demands. Bass Grant Dickson, as John the Evangelist, filled in at short notice and he is a capable singer without a conspicuously fine voice and whilst he is tested technically and does succumb occasionally he possesses stamina and tenacity. Ronald Dowd, in a small role as An Elder, was almost at the end of his distinguished career and it does rather sound it. His fellow tenor Raymond McDonald is inevitably in younger and fresher voice in the dual roles of An Angel and A Voice from Heaven. Mezzo Narelle Tapping and contralto Lauris Elms prove a more consistent team than the more uneven men. The recording quality sometimes registers the difficulties of in situ taping of the Mahlerian-sized forces but the visceral nature of the writing certainly registers with blistering intensity.

The full booklet contains the complete text as well as Rob Barnett’s notes. I doubt there will be an opportunity to hear the work again in the foreseeable future so Lyrita offers your only viable chance to hear it.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey  

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