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Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
Polyeucte – Overture (1891) [16:28]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
L’Ascension (1932-33) [25:10]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op 120 (1841, rev. 1851) [31:43]
Royal Opera House Orchestra/Reginald Goodall
Includes radio introductions and conclusion
rec. 18 December 1961
Reviewed as a 24 bit FLAC download

Pristine Audio continue to mine radio station archives and are now issuing the kind of releases that used to be the sole domain of BBC Legends. As John Quinn points out in his very detailed review, this disc considerably widens Reginald Goodall’s discography. Goodall (1901-1990) is now remembered as an operatic conductor. He was a very fine Wagnerian, knighted in 1985, but earlier in his career, I was interested to learn that he’d conducted two Britten operas, including the premiere of Peter Grimes, also The Rape of Lucretia. Inspired by MusicWeb, I purchased the EMI British Composers sets. A further set has Goodall conducting extracts from the two operas in 1947 British Composers: Britten, Berkeley, Rubbra. Despite his well-regarded reputation, he never became principal conductor of a leading orchestra or opera house. Like many collectors, I have his Wagner’s “The Ring Cycle” in English (review), and also a live Bruckner Symphony 7 (review). Thanks to Andrew Rose of Pristine, I now have my first access to a 24-bit download. The sound is impressive for a radio broadcast dating from nearly 60 years ago. Rather like those taken down by Lyrita’s Richard Itter, this concert was recorded at home by Goodall’s friend, the bassist, Victor Godfrey (1934-2012). The BBC had scrapped the tapes, This is another excellent re-mastering by Pristine in “Ambient Stereo”; it sounds very good through my system.

It is very nostalgic to hear the BBC Third Programme announcer starting proceedings; I was seven in 1961 and often used to listen to the start of an evening concert with my father on a large “Bakelite” set, the tones and the accent have affected my speech to this day. He doesn’t mention the Dukas until after the performance but his French is pretty good for the movements of the Messiaen. Apart from the famous “The Sorcerer's Apprentice”, whose appearance in the film “Fantasia” has greatly aided its popularity, the only other work, I know by Dukas is “La Villanelle” for horn performed with a mournful intensity by the late great Dennis Brain (review). That was from 1891, the Overture to the Corneille tragedy Polyeucte from 1897. It starts sombrely before becoming more vigorous. I don’t know whether it was a subliminal association but my overriding impression, as the music unfolded, was Tristan und Isolde by Goodall’s great hero Richard Wagner and also Richard Strauss. It really is a powerful piece, with, as one would expect plenty of thematic colour. I’m delighted to discover it. The orchestra play this piece, which must have been unfamiliar to them, very well. I see that a performance by Sir Andrew Davis on Warner was very much admired by Gary Higginson (review). As so often, when reviewing works for MusicWeb International, one is led to further exploration, which is a great benefit.

I’ve steadily grown to admire the works of Olivier Messiaen, and have a 1970s recording of L’ Ascension conducted by Leopold Stokowski (review ~ review). Originally composed for organ, Messiaen later orchestrated the four movements. Its origins are very apparent at times, for example the beginning of the second piece Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui désire le ciel (Bien modéré, clair) which also seems to enjoy a debt to some impressionist composers, for example Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Even with a sixty-year-old recording, the powerful sound was impressive and shook my speakers. In the final two movements, the sound is a little restricted at times for the complexities of the musical argument, but I found the performance utterly absorbing. The final Prière du Christ montant vers son Père (Extrêmement lent, ému et solennel) has just so much going on. I wonder what the response of “The Third Programme” audience was back in 1961, astonishment, I suggest.

The second half of the recorded concert had no audience present. It consists of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, which as the announcer points out, was actually the second to be written. I’ve listened and reviewed various performances of this work of late and enjoy it considerably. Goodall and the orchestra give a fine performance, with perhaps the last degree of sparkle missing. The brass is particularly impressive towards the conclusion of the first movement. The slow movement is lyrically played and, I enjoyed the final two. As often occurs when I hear this work, I think of the debt to Schubert - his “Great C Major” - and the utter sadness that this composer died in such tragic circumstances.

I have been delighted to have the opportunity to hear this concert which I found very absorbing. It also has value in widening Goodall’s discography. The first two works will definitely need further exploration; I already love the Schumann. The transfers by Andrew Rose are first class as ever.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: John Quinn

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