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Goossens v1 PASC654

Sir Eugene Goossens (conductor)
Cincinnati Symphony, Vol. 1
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
The Walk to the Paradise Garden (arr. Sir Thomas Beecham) [9:30]
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Violin Concerto (original version) [27:40]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
A London Symphony (1920 version) [39:08]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
rec. February 1941 (Walton, Vaughan Williams), February 1946 (Delius) Cincinnati Music Hall, Cincinnati, USA

Pristine Audio has been doing wonderful work rescuing rarities from oblivion and restoring them to listenable condition. In the last few years, one of their projects has been finding almost forgotten early recordings of US orchestras, which has brought forth an impressive series of recordings by the Indianapolis Symphony conducted by Serge Koussevitzky's almost forgotten cousin Fabien Sevitzky. Also of major import was a set of the complete recordings of the Cleveland Orchestra with its founding music director Nikolai Sokolov, which even unearthed some experimental recordings not reissued for almost a century.

Now Pristine, with accomplished restoration engineer Marc Obert-Thorn, turn their sights to Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony. Cincinnati was one of the first cities of the US Midwest (today the north central breadbasket region of the widespread nation) to develop an extensive arts scene. It was the home of singing festivals such as the Cincinnati May Festival, which was officially formed in 1873, though its roots go back to the 1840s.

The Cincinnati Symphony was formed in 1895, but dissolved in labor disputes in 1907. It was reorganized under the galvanizing leadership of a young English organist named Leopold Stokowski in 1909. Alas, Stokowski decamped for his destiny in Philadelphia before any recordings of his work with the orchestra could be made. Its first recordings were made in 1917 under the next music director, Ernst Kunwald, but more prominent were the recordings made under the next director, world-famed violinist, conductor, and composer Eugène Ysaÿe. A selection of those recordings (though apparently not all) was reissued by Sony in the now-defunct Masterworks Heritage series. Surprisingly, considering the scale of his later recording activities in Pittsburgh and Chicago, no recordings were made in the seasons that Fritz Reiner was director in Cincinnati (1922-1931), but when he was succeeded by British conductor Eugene Goossens, it must have looked promising, considering that Goossens had been busy before the Great Depression making some very fine records in Los Angeles with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, which he had launched in 1927.

It took years for the economy to again pick up, but once it did, microphones returned to Cincinnati in 1941, with the first recording of English composer William Walton's new violin concerto. The piece had been premiered less than two years earlier at the other end of the state of Ohio, when Jascha Heifetz performed it with the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by its music director, Artur Rodzinski. When time came for a recording to be made, Britain was out of the question as a location, as World War Two had already broken out. The Cleveland Orchestra was under contract to Columbia Records, while Jascha Heifetz was under contract to Victor Records (to be known in the future as RCA-Victor). Thus, the premiere recording went to an orchestra without a rival contract. Cincinnati was esteemed and freely available, so a plan was made to record the concerto and other items.

After Walton revised the orchestration during the war, Heifetz joined him for a new recording in 1950. The present version, then, is the original orchestration. The main revisions Walton made were a lightening of the density of the percussion parts, so the changes are mostly of a subtle nature, reflecting Walton's characteristic perfectionism. Heifetz is as persuasive here as in the later recording, for the concerto's combination of gleam and swoon played to his strengths, and he often succeeds in making more impact with the work than many players. Goossens has the orchestra in fine, responsive form, and the recorded sound from Cincinnati's enormous Music Hall is an attractive, well-balanced mono, nicely restored here by Obert-Thorn.

The next piece to be recorded also turned out to be in an early edition. In this case, it was Ralph Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony, the second of the composer's nine symphonies. The work has a long history of revisions that had culminated in a definitive score in 1936, but that edition had not yet made its way into the hands of the Cincinnati Symphony, and the outbreak of war prevented obtainment in 1941, so this recording was made with the second version of the symphony, from 1920. Only two recordings of this version of the symphony were ever made, the present one and one by Sir Dan Godfrey and the London Symphony. To the best of my knowledge, the latter has only once surfaced on CD, on the Symposium label, and I've never had a chance to hear it - but the present recording more than adequately demonstrates the second revision.

The original version of the symphony went unheard after the symphony's early years until it was revived for a single recording in the year 2000 by Richard Hickox and the London Symphony (Chandos). The original version shows substantial differences from the final edition, as Vaughan Williams opted to pare down the work considerably. The 1920 version was a way station in this long process. In 1920, the first and third movements had already reached their final forms. The slow movement had lost 40 measures from the original version, and was to lose another dozen measures in the 1936 revision. The finale (including the epilogue) lost a whopping 78 measures from 1913 to 1920, with an additional 26 bars being cut in its final form.

Whereas the Walton concerto was subject only to cosmetic refinements, the changes made to the symphony constitute a major pruning. Unlike the case of Anton Bruckner, Vaughan Williams was not pressured into making his cuts. His case seems rather more like that of Sergei Rachmaninov, who sanctioned cuts in his lengthy second symphony, commenting that he had been a bit long-winded in his youth. It is interesting to note, however, that Rachmaninov did not officially invalidate the original versions by bringing out revised editions as Vaughan Williams did. That is why Rachmaninov's originals have largely become preferred today, while Vaughan Williams' revised edition of A London Symphony remains firmly in place. It does have to be said, however, that it is a matter of some controversy for any creative artist to edit his or her works from decades earlier. After that many years, he or she is quite simply not the same artist who originally wrote it, but the present release makes it clear that the bulk of Vaughan Williams' surgery came earlier instead of later.

The Hickox recording demonstrated that the original score of this second symphony of Vaughan Williams was a much stranger and more discursive work at first, more Mahlerian than Sibelian. The final version brings the work into a more disciplined focus. The Goossens recording shows an in-between step before final adjustments. Don't be fooled by its total timing: Goossens' tempi are fast, so this version is not much different from the familiar final one. An apt comparison would be between Goossens and the first recording of the final version, which had already been made in 1936 by Sir Henry Wood and the Queen's Hall Orchestra. Wood's recording (Dutton) comes in at 36:29, much faster than most conduct it today, when a typical run time is around forty-five minutes. By comparison to Wood, Goossens' similar tempos in the 1920 version total 39:08. Clearly the radical rewrite was from 1913 to 1920, as the Hickox recording runs just over an hour. Granted, it is at broader tempos than either Wood or Goossens, but restoring 150 bars makes a substantial difference.

The first movement, which typically runs around 14 or 15 minutes in a modern performance is here just over 11 minutes, but that is strictly a matter of tempo, as the 1920 and 1936 versions are identical. Even the original version of this movement had only one additional bar. This means that the Goossens vision of London is much more hurly-burly than most modern performances, just as Wood's was. It is interesting to note the difference in recording styles between the Wood (Decca) and the Goossens (Victor). Just a decade later, RCA-Victor would be key in creating the "American sound" of the 1950s in classical music, with very close-up microphones, while a more distant "concert hall" pickup became fashionable in Europe. Here, the opposite is true. The Wood was recorded in London with very close, intense sound. The Victor engineers opted for greater mystery and dynamic range in Cincinnati's reverberant Music Hall. While this generates more atmosphere, it also veils more detail. Nonetheless, the sound is quite handsome and listenable. Goossens offers a steadier sense of long line than Wood, who almost constantly shifts pace. Both orchestras cope well with the swift speeds.

Goossens creates an exquisite sense of longing in the opening section of the slow movement, with tantalizing mystery in the following flowing section. The sensuality of his Cincinnati strings is remarkable. The original Victor recording lacks the heft of the Decca for Wood, yet it matches the conductor's far sleeker and more lyrical approach. Goossens reminds us that Vaughan Williams was, after all, a student of Ravel, something not evoked by Wood's lumpenly emphatic manner. Indeed, Wood seems impatient with the movement, where Goossens savors it. The fascinating result is that while Wood's performance runs almost a minute shorter, it feels more episodic and longer than the Goossens, which emerges in one breath. This movement, particularly, makes me wish that Goossens had recorded more of the Vaughan Williams symphonies.

Both conductors skip the repeat early in the scherzo, but both paint the colors of this nocturne dazzlingly, though the airy Cincinnati recording gives it a much greater sense of atmosphere. Both revel in the street music trio. Again, Wood is forthright in the finale, Goossens more atmospheric. Goossens is more sensitive to the half-lights of the subdued coda. I would give Goossens the nod among early recordings, recommend Barbirolli's 1957 recording (Warner) as an early stereo choice and Kees Bakel's recording with the Bournemouth Symphony (Naxos) for a modern digital rendition of the work, as well as the essential Hickox recording of the original version (Chandos).

Last but not least on this release is the final recording Victor made with Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony in February of 1946. It is a performance of The Walk to the Paradise Garden from Frederick Delius' opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, in the familiar Beecham arrangement. By way of comparison to another period recording, I pulled out the 1944 recording by John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra from the big box Warner recently issued, gathering Barbirolli's complete recordings for HMV/EMI and Pye Records. Barbirolli is of course renowned as a Delius interpreter, second only to Beecham himself. It speaks well of Goossens that his Delius stands comparison to Barbirolli. If it cannot beat Barbirolli for sheer open-heartedness, it is admirable for its sensual flow. Again, the recorded sound is airy and atmospheric, which works particularly well for Delius.

This release will be an important step in re-evaluating the fine work that Eugene Goossens left as his legacy. Future volumes will be eagerly awaited.

Mark Sebastian Jordan

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