Goossens: Orchestral Works, Vol 1 - Shelley, Hickox
Chandos CHSA 5068
Classical - Orchestral
Sir Eugene Goossens: Symphony No. 1, Phantasy Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Howard Shelley (piano)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Richard Hickox (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - February 18, 2009
It is apt that Richard Hickox’s final recording should be of the music of a British conductor/composer with close ties to Australia, since only recently he himself became the musical director of Opera Australia.
In recent years there has been a re-assessment of the music written by eminent conductors, Felix Weingartner, Wilhelm Furtwangler and Otto Klemperer immediately spring to mind, so this SACD of the First Symphony of Sir Eugene Goossens is especially welcome, particularly as it also contains the premier recording of the Phantasy Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.
Eugene Goossens (III) was born in London on 26 May 1893, into a family of musicians: his grandfather and father, both called Eugene, were prominent conductors and Eugene’s brother Leon was one of the finest oboists of the twentieth century, his sisters Marie and Sidonie were harpists, the latter for many years principal harp of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Eugene had a formal musical education in Belgium and England and from the age of 17 he studied composition, with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and with Charles Wood at the Royal College of Music. His distinguished career as a conductor began as early as 1913 and led eventually to his appointment in 1931 as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1946. His sojourn in Australia, as both Director of the New South Wales Conservatoire and conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, began the following year and lasted until 1956 when following a scandal he resigned his posts. He died in 1962. Both the works recorded here were composed during his time in Cincinnati.
The 25-minute Phantasy (1942), written in four movements that are played without a break, is an impressive work that reveals Goossens not only as a masterly orchestrator, but also as a composer with many memorable ideas that he develops to the full in this concerto. The music has crystalline clarity that sometimes recalls Ravel in both the piano and woodwind writing and while there is a pungency and toughness in the faster movements it is often contrasted with a romantic lyricism. The latter is particularly evident the sinister and reflective Andante, which Goossens said was influenced by his reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Devil in the Belfry’ and which does extensively feature tubular bells and glockenspiel. The piano is treated very much in the manner of a concertante instrument throughout the work, playing with the orchestra most of the time rather than pitted against it. Howard Shelley engages with what must be a taxing piano part with his customary assurance and sensitivity, while the balance the engineers have achieved between piano and orchestra ensures superb illumination of detail in the scoring. This enjoyable piece is an excellent addition to the pioneering discography of Goossens’s music available on the ABC Classics label (RBCD only)
Goossens wrote two symphonies and this, his first, was composed between 1938 and 1940. It is dedicated ‘To my colleagues of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’ and is a product of the turbulent war years. The symphony has been recorded a few times before but is still a shamefully neglected work. From the outset one is gripped by the confidence and purpose with which Goossens handles his material. The menace of the first movement’s opening soon leads to a vigorous, tense allegro that is then powerfully developed before eventually reaching a peaceful conclusion. The lovely Andante espressivo with its soaring melodies and languorous solos for violin, cello, flute and oboe recalls Bax in one of his Celtic idylls although an underlying sense of unease still prevails
Goossens calls the third movement ‘Divertimento’. It is a powerful sardonic scherzo in which the insistent side drum and percussion gives it clear militaristic overtones. Contrast is provided by the brief trio section that is heralded by what Goosens calls ‘cold brass chords’ before the return of the main scherzo.
The finale opens with a wistful motto theme, first heard in the opening movement, before embarking on an exultant allegro. Echoes of the earlier movements appear before the symphony reaches its end in a blaze of brass, percussion and organ. Those who enjoy the symphonies of Bax and Walton will find this immensely powerful and turbulent symphony to be much to their taste.
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play magnificently for Richard Hickox and the recording made in the ample acoustic of the Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne is very fine indeed.
The accompanying booklet notes by Lewis Foreman are detailed, informative and quote extensively from the composer’s own description of the music. This recording, the first in what was to have been a series devoted to the music of Eugene Goossens, is dedicated to the memory of Richard Hickox and it a fitting tribute both to his fine conducting and championship of neglected British music.
Very highly recommended.
Copyright © 2009 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
Review by Mark Novak - March 8, 2009
Castor's review gives a thorough exploration of Goossen and his music. I have nothing to add to his perceptive comments and notes. However, I do have a different reaction to the music on this SACD and thought others might benefit from my rather less flattering perspective.
The continuous four-movement piano concerto is highly chromatic though not exactly atonal. I found it interesting to listen to but there is nothing about it that I love. What "melodies" there are are not memorable or even likable. The piano exists more in a concertante role rather than the focal point of the piece. Maybe if Goossens tossed in a few real melodies from time to time, it would have held my interest. Alas, that isn't the case. A very forgetable and unlovely 25 minutes of music.
The symphony (written in close proximity to the concerto) is a little bit better as music. Goossen paints over a 39 minute canvas in four movements. Though he continues to compose quite chromatically, the result is a little more pleasing to the ear than the drab, boring concerto. The third movement is a scherzo and trio in all but name (he calls it a divertimento) and brings life to the work. The finale, especially the scampering coda, brings the work to a satisfying conclusion. This is a work I will return to in the future - not so the paino concerto.
The recorded sound is typical for Chandos - a bit too much reverberation for my taste. The perspective is no better than mid-hall and a little amorphous sounding. I prefer a closer-in perspective.
There are many who visit this site who will buy this release just because its an SACD (and perhaps because of Castor's highly favorable review). If you enjoy music that borders on atonality and is virtually bereft of anything considered a conventional melody, this is probably your cup of tea. Otherwise, you'd best pass on this one. Instead, check out some of the wonderful Dutton Epoch British music releases on RBCD (heresey!) which contain lots of great, little-known music by composers who write melodic and adventurous music (also in excellent sonics).
Copyright © 2009 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net