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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
rec. 18 December 1961
Includes radio introductions and conclusion

Reginald Goodall (1901-1990) was primarily noted as an operatic conductor. He eventually achieved near legendary status as a Wagner conductor – and was knighted in 1985 - but earlier in his career he had some wider opportunities; for example, he conducted the premieres of two Britten operas, Peter Grimes (in 1945) and The Rape of Lucretia (1946). Not many examples of his concert work survive. There was a 1971 Bruckner Seventh on BBC Legends (review). I also have in my collection BBC Legends issues of the Bruckner Eighth (a 1969 performance, BBCL 4086-2) and of the Ninth (from 1974, BBCL4174-2), neither of which were reviewed here. Though Bruckner is repertoire that one might expect a seasoned Wagnerian to offer I would never have associated Goodall with Dukas or Messiaen. So, this new release from Pristine is of special interest.

This concert, recorded on 18 December 1961 and broadcast three days later on the BBC Third Programme, was preserved thanks to the conductor’s friend, the bass Victor Godfrey. Pristine’s notes tell us that he recorded this radio broadcast using his own high-quality equipment as a surprise gift. It’s a good job he did, because the BBC, as they so often did, failed to retain the original tape in their archives. So far as is known, this is the sole surviving copy of the recording. It’s been remastered by Andrew Rose and it’s presented in Ambient stereo.

The Dukas overture is a concert piece after the tragedy by Corneille. It opens with a slow introduction which is taken expansively by Goodall. The passage of fast music which follows (3:39) is driving and dramatic in this performance. There you have the template for the performance as a whole. It’s quite an extensive overture in which there are both fast and slow episodes. Goodall does the fast sections well but his real strengths are shown in the slower sections where he reminds us of his skills at maintaining a musical line in slow-moving passages. The extended close of the piece is warmly romantic and this shows Goodall at his very best. It’s a good performance overall and I enjoyed it.

Dukas was, for a time, one of the teachers with whom Olivier Messiaen studied at the Paris Conservatoire. I don’t know if this connection was in Goodall’s mind when planning the programme. As in the Dukas, I find Goodall particularly convincing in the slow movements of Messiaen’s work. The long, visionary chorale that is Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père shows the conductor’s ability to mould and sustain long melodic lines The bright trumpets inevitably catch the ear but, in truth, the whole brass section does well. The end of the piece is particularly majestic. The woodwind section is to the fore in Alleluias sereins d’une âme qui desire le ciel and there’s a good deal of supple phrasing to admire. For a lot of the time when the wind are playing, the upper strings have quieter background material and I find this harder to discern than would be the case with a modern recording. In the third movement, Alleluia sur la trompette, alleluia sur la cymbal, the rhythms are strongly projected. Goodall’s treatment of the music is quite sturdy but he conveys the excitement. The concluding Prière du Christ montant vers son Père offers another example of Goodall’s strength with long lines. The sound of the strings isn’t ideally sweet, though the sixty-year-old sound may be a factor there. Certainly, the appropriate intensity is present in the playing. This is a pretty good performance of Messiaen’s score, I think, and it’s all the more praiseworthy when you think that both work and idiom will have been unfamiliar to these players. I wonder if Goodall had ever conducted the score before – or whether he returned to it again; he makes a good job of it here.

The concert concluded with Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. (There’s a tiny glitch in the track listing which gives the home key as D major.) The performance begins promisingly; the slow introduction is given all the space the music needs. The subsequent Lebhaft section is strongly projected, though I feel the tempo is a little on the steady side. Though Goodall is fairly measured for most of the movement his treatment of the last minute or so is very much livelier and it makes a big difference. The Romance, too, is on the steady side but the music is very nicely phrased. The Scherzo is presented firmly. I would have liked the Trio to be a bit lighter on its feet but, to be fair, one can’t deny the care of the phrasing. The Langsam introduction to the finale is spacious and tense; indeed, I’ve written “almost Wagnerian” in my notes. The main body of the movement – Lebhaft – is not the swiftest I’ve heard but it seems to have inner energy. There are a few occasions when Goodall slows the tempo for expressive effect and I find that distracting. As with the first movement, he really whips up the pace in the last couple of minutes.

I’m glad this concert has been preserved. There’s much to enjoy and it’s very welcome to have the chance to hear Reginald Goodall giving good accounts of music that one would not normally expect to hear from him. Inevitably, the sound has its limitations but not to an extent that spoiled my enjoyment. Pristine have retained the BBC announcements though keeping the opening announcement is in some ways an odd decision since the announcer tells us who is to perform the opening work but doesn’t actually mention what the work in question is to be!

John Quinn

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