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Sir Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
Phantasy Concerto, Op.63 (1946-48 rev 1958) [28:44]
Symphony No.2, Op.62 (1942-45) [39:28]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 2018/19, Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Whatever else one can say about Eugene Goossens’s Phantasy Concerto for Violin - housed in Chandos’s third volume of his Orchestral Works - Delian rhapsody, Elgarian nobilmente, Waltonian sunshine and Moeranesque folk fiddling will not feature. Instead, it is fluid but gritty in which the called-for phantasy quality is often derailed by orchestral upheavals and gaunt outbursts and in which the work’s beauties – it has a number, but they are hard won - emerge as if in retrospect; sample the lovely end of the first movement, for example. The solo violin, which Goossens pitches straight in, has to work hard against the orchestra’s sometimes grudging responses. One can easily see why Heifetz, for whom it was intended – as was the Bax, famously – wasn’t interested in it. It lacks concerto fire, unvarnished lyricism, virtuoso panache and succulence. It is too ambiguous and fretful for a conventional Concerto-King such as he. It also lacks a meaty cadenza, though there is a concise one. Even the Jota rhythms in the finale are somewhat grudging and never truly take flight. Which is more or less to say its unconventional episodic quality militates against acceptance. I have tried many times to get to like this work, and it was through the generosity of MWI’s Rob Barnett that I was able to hear Tessa Robbins’ 1960 broadcast but neither she nor the ever-admirable Tasmin Little, who plays with characteristically rich tone (when allowed), have quite been able to convert my curiosity to conviction.

ABC recorded the Second Symphony with Vernon Handley directing the Sydney Symphony (review) in a 3 CD box of Goossens’s orchestral music, which has been for a long time a necessary reference for admirers of this body of music. Chandos’ own exploration began with Richard Hickox’s recording of Symphony No.1 but on his death Andrew Davis took over volume 2 and has now taken on this volume too. There is no doubting the recording advantages gained with the Melbourne Symphony (Handley’s recording was a live one) and this gives the symphony real force and definition. This symphony is more withdrawn, less brightly coloured and suffused with a greater sense of hooded tranquilo lyricism than the earlier symphony. Seldom truly untroubled, profoundly withdrawn, it shares with the Phantasy Concerto an obligation to break up sections with ominous insistence but to remain cagily opaque emotively. I would point to Goossens’s use of the clarinet and its particular commentary, something Davis oversees with great perception, never overdoing this, keeping a balanced control. If his Scherzo isn’t hammered out as rapidly as Handley’s it is full of clarity and impactful. The pulsing fugato moments, as well as the listless lyricism embedded in the finale sound properly unsettling, whilst the work’s peroration is truly powerful.

Preparation and execution alike are admirable and now that we have both Phantasy Concertos on commercial disc – those for piano and now for violin – we can better gauge Goossens’ compositional breadth.

Jonathan Woolf

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