Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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EUGENE GOOSSENS (1893-1962) Divertissement (1959-60) [18.37] Variations on a Chinese Theme (1911-12) [27.18] The Eternal Rhythm (1913) [20.24] Kaleidoscope (1917, 1933) [9.50] Melbourne SO/Vernon Handley ABC CLASSICS 462 766-2 [76.12]
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The present disc is part of a series that currently numbers four. The first to be issued was the second symphony which is also to be reviewed on this site.

Divertimento's Dance Prelude (first of three movements) initially light-handed becomes quite serious and emphatic. Towards the end we have a major romantic climax. The Scherzo and Folk tune central movement betrays the influence of Arthur Bliss and drifts into Szymanowski territory at moments. The following Folk Tune is one of Goossens most uncomplicated pastoral sketches. The Folk Tune is a gem of a piece and is eloquently treated here. The final Ballet Flamenco has some hard-faced castanets, woodblocks and side drum. The piece was inspired by the dancing of flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya. Goossens conducted the orchestra when she danced de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance in Cincinnati in 1944. This can be added to the pictorial literature of Hispanic evocations which stretch from El Salon Mexico to Rhapsodie Espagnole. Vernon Handley's performance and the wonderful recording accorded by ABC's engineers completely outpace the Gaspare Chiarelli-conducted registration once available on a Unicorn LP (RHS348).

The Variations on a Chinese Theme wind us back nearly fifty years. An innocent little theme of Chinese dip and lilt is put through its paces. The fifth, seventh eighth hark back to Brahmsian language while the sixth is much more modern in approach. The ninth is Dvorakian. The tenth like Tchaikovsky. The eleventh could easily have been a Vaughan Williams frolic out of The Wasps. The 12th is an uncomplicated serenade. The next variation is closer to the uncertainty world which Goossens later captured before drifting into an impressionistic grand valse. The last variation begins in the mildly scary world of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker but soon resolves into a proto-Arnoldian English Dance.

The Eternal Rhythm is from a year later but already Goossens is showing more individuality and there are far more hallmarks of his developed style. Goossens conducted the premiere at the Queen's Hall on 19 October 1920. Sinuous clarinet melodies wind in and out through an orchestral mist worthy of the opening of Citizen Kane. At 5.30 the Scriabinesque trumpet cries out to the heavens as, in 1939, he was to do with the whole of the expanded trumpet choir in the finale of his First Symphony. At 10.04 the twist in the notes is remarkable and intriguingly unsettling. French impressionism meets Russian mysticism. Janacek meets Debussy. Bax must have learnt from this voluptuous music as well. His symphonies bear its imaginative marks. Surely he heard the piece or knew the score. It is all well handled here although I thought I noticed the awed trumpets faltering once or twice. At 17.50 there is a further misty passage which seems to predict the darker moments in Bax's Second Symphony, a work that Goossens was to premiere in London during the 1920s.

The final ten minute Kaleidoscope is an orchestral jeu d'esprit which may well be known to many in its solo piano version. It is a quite varied collection out of a child's colouring book and music box; akin to Ma Mere L'Oie but with Stravinskian interpolations. Appropriately it opens with Good Morning and closes with … you've guessed … Goodnight. The moon floats high in a Disneyesque night sky.

Design values are excellent. Utterly superb photos adorn the whole of the series. The biographical introduction is the same across each of the series. The notes by Meurig Bowen cover each of the works in some detail. We must hope for more from this source. There is an existing analogue ABC tape of the opera Judith. ABC also has the Myer Fredman conducted tape of Apocalypse which should go onto a single crammed CD.

Most strongly recommended.


Rob Barnett

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Rob Barnett

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