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EUGENE GOOSSENS (1893-1962) Symphony No. 1 (1940) 42.02 Oboe Concerto (1927) 12.22 Tam O'Shanter (1919) 3.10 Concert Piece for two harps, oboe (doubling cor anglais) and orchestra (1958) 22.00 West Australian SO /Vernon Handley ABC CLASSICS 462 014-2 [79.55]

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Each of the orchestral volumes in the splendour of this ABC series has been conducted by Vernon Handley. Handley. The first volume (Symphony No. 2) featured the Sydney SO, the present volume the West Australian and the third volume the Melbourne orchestra. Who knows - perhaps the next will have the Adelaide SO returning to Goossens territory. It was, after all, the Adelaiders who recorded the Goossens Symphony No. 1 with David Measham back in 1977 (Unicorn LP KP8000). This disc is the CD premiere of Symphony No. 1 and Tam. The Concert Piece appears for the first time on any commercially-released medium although there are tapes of a BBC performance of the piece circulating among enthusiasts.

This disc is simply packed with good music although easily the most impressive and accessible is the symphony. This work belongs to the turbulent late thirties and might loosely be bracketed with the Hubert Clifford Symphony (to be released later this year by Chandos), Stanley Bate's Symphony No. 3 and Arthur Benjamin's Symphony (available on Marco Polo but also to be released in an alternative performance in the unforeseeable future by Lyrita).

Before this recording I had heard a pair of performances of this Symphony and there is one recording I know of but have never tracked down. The pair were the Unicorn LP - Measham - and a BBC Scottish SO/Jerzy Maksymiuk BBC Radio 3 broadcast on 15 December 1990. Both seemed lively and the Measham in particular I found impressive although nothing in that recording has won me over as much as Handley's ABC disc.

Handley and ABC have captured the often ambivalent moods created by Goossens better than any performance so far. I had better reserve judgement on the composer's own Australian LP (which I hope one day to hear - would anyone be kind enough to send me a tape of that LP?) as that is the performance I have not heard. In any event it will be in mono and dates from the mid-1950s I believe. I wonder how many copies survive. Perhaps supplies of the disc were destroyed after the scandal which marked Goossens departure from Australia?

All the multi-faceted episodes and emotions are here. Baxian mystery (it will be remembered that Goossens conducted the UK premiere of Bax Symphony No. 2 and then revived it with the BBCSO during the 1950s) jostles with creeping militaristic figures reminiscent of Alwyn's bitter determination in Symphonies 1 and 3. A pointed febrile urgency is at the cortex of this performance and Handley keeps in constant touch with this pulse. At 8.19 in the first movement a flute passage takes us to the willowy dank world of Frank Bridge and indeed Bridge is a persistent reference point for Goossens. At 3.12 in the second movement Bridge's world obtrudes again in tones of glassy fragility. Korngold (violin solo at II 5.00) and Zemlinsky are also familiar voices. The third movement is a tetchy divertimento with an edgily splenetic side-drum goading the proceedings along. The chattering flute at 3.28 takes us into RVW territory. The boiling finale is topped off by the desperate Scriabinesque fanfares of the augmented trumpet section. Goossens prescribed three extra trumpets saying that they were 'absolutely essential to the effective brilliance of the finale.' They register strongly in this clean and direct ABC ambience.

The other works are worth having but are not as immediately attractive. They register a voltage level in lower foothills than the symphony. The Concerto is brief and fanciful; a capricious tone poem for oboe and orchestra without obstinately memorable ideas. Tam is brief and does not register in the mind but that also applies to any performance including the one conducted some years ago for an ABC LP by Patrick Thomas. The Concert Piece is one of those works I have not yet come to a conclusion about. It is a family confection for Marie and Sidonie (the two harpists) and for Leon (the oboist). The harps glitter and glimmer, shimmer and iridesce. The oboe pays sad court to the harps but the beauties of the piece fail to come over strongly. This is a piece to intrigue rather than immediately conquer. Did I detect an air of sadness and nostalgia hanging over the piece. Certainly the eruption of a famous concert waltz towards the end suggests recollections of past glories.

The whole disc is highly desirable. The notes are substantial and practical. Meurig Bowen avoids opaque technicality in favour of communication. The notes are in English only and span 12pp.

Recommended - strongly.


Rob Barnett


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Rob Barnett

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