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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

London born Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) was one of a number of renowned conductors whose prowess on the podium somewhat overshadowed their compositional endeavours. Others in the same boat include Furtwängler, Klemperer, and Weingartner, to name just three. He hailed from a musical dynasty, the son of the Belgian conductor and violinist Eugène Goossens. He had a brother Leon who played the oboe and two sisters, Sidonie and Marie, who were harpists. Following studies at the Royal College of Music in violin, piano, theory and composition, the latter with Sir Charles Stanford, he launched his career as a violinist in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra. He got into conducting via Sir Thomas Beecham, and soon gained a reputation for mastering difficult scores. In 1923 he travelled to the States and took up a post as conductor of the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra. From 1931-1946 he conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Then in 1946 a new phase of his career opened up in Australia, as Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Director of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, where he remained until 1956. His last years were spent back in the UK under the shadow of scandal. His compositional oeuvre consists of two operas, orchestral, instrumental, choral and chamber works.

The Phantasy Concerto for violin and orchestra was written between 1946-1948 for Jascha Heifetz, fulfilling a promise he'd made to the violinist in the early 1930s. Throughout his life, Heifetz commissioned many concertos from composers, but several, like this one, were rejected on the grounds that they didn't provide enough scope to showcase his virtuosity. It was left to Tessa Robbins to premiere the work in a BBC broadcast in July 1959 after Goossens had "polished it". The first concert performance took place in September the following year at the Proms, again with Robbins as soloist. Since that time it has fallen into obscurity. So here we have the first commercial recording. Though in four movements, the work conforms to W.W. Cobbett's 'phantasy' arch structure "in which the outlines of the constituent movements are encompassed within a single span". The violin enters the fray immediately with soaring rhapsodic lines, leading into a sequence of contrasting episodes. The Scherzo is nimble, lightly textured and waspish. Holst's Venus from The Planets is echoed in the slow movement. There's a glacial stillness with diaphanous scoring supporting the violin's melancholic wanderings. In the finale, the Spanish Jota adds some rhythmic bite, and a romantic second subject provides some contrast, leading to a brief cadenza. The work could have no better advocate than Tasmin Little, who delivers a virtuosic and idiomatic performance, ably supported by Davis and the Melbourne players.

The Second Symphony was written between 1943-1945 and was dedicated to Goossens’ third wife, Marjorie. Coming at the time it did, it reflects the conflict and anxiety of war. Once again, it was premiered in a BBC broadcast on 2 November 1946, in a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with the conductor himself at the helm. The opener is brooding with a forceful sense of portent. Throughout the movement, the restless undercurrents never stray very far from the surface. More serene lyricism does creep in from time to time. Nostalgic calm informs the slow movement, where the folksong ‘The Turtle Dove’ and snatches of birdsong mingle with more dissonant elements. The Scherzo has a military flavour, suggested by pizzicatos and side drum snares. Dark, doleful and sombre, the mood of the first movement makes a return visit in the finale. Again a militaristic element reinforces the ominous and foreboding mien of this uneasy and troubled score. Davis achieves fluency, potency, precision and a compelling sense of frisson from the orchestral players.

By my reckoning, this is the third volume in Chandos’ on-going Goossens series (review ~ review), performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, with the previous issues garnering enthusiastic endorsement from our reviewers. This latest release is no exception. The sound is gripping and full of pull and punch, and Lewis Foreman's booklet essay, in English, French and German, is packed with detailed information. For those not familiar with the other volumes in the series and encountering Goossens’ music fresh, this compelling release will steer the aspiring supplicant on the right path.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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