Saturday, 4 April 2009

Eugene Goossens: Orchestral Works on Chandos

Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) Phantasy Concerto for piano and orchestra Op. 60 (1942) Symphony No. 1 Op.58 (1938-1940) Howard Shelley (piano) Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox CHANDOS CHSA 5068

Recently I have enjoyed reviewing this CD of orchestral works by the largely forgotten composer Sir Eugene Goossens. I began by putting my cards on the table.
“I believe that Eugene Goossens is one of the best of the large group of largely ignored British composers: there is virtually nothing in his catalogue that I have heard and not liked. Recordings and performances of his works are relatively few and far between.
I recalled how I first came to Goossens music “ by way of the delightful collection of piano pieces called Kaleidoscope. It was played to me ‘live’ by a friend who had counted the composer as a friend. It was a number of years before I discovered the First Symphony recorded by Vernon Handley and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Fortunately, ABC Classics issued a Three-CD retrospective of Goossens’ orchestral music in 2005 with Handley conducting. It is this release that allowed me, and I guess a huge number of other listeners to get to know this fine music. Two major works were missing – the Phantasy Concertos: one each for violin and for piano. Fortunately Chandos have here remedied the deficiency in the case of the 1942 Phantasy Piano Concerto…"

After considering the Phantasy Concerto for piano and orchestra Op. 60, I noted that “interestingly, Goossens was in his mid-forties before he deigned to compose a Symphony. He wrote that “Perhaps it was that in my 25-year career as a conductor I had encountered a surfeit of immature pomposities labelled symphonies from the pens of youthful composers with a message.” Furthermore he felt little urge to “project my sparse ideas through the medium of a form which for successful manipulation calls for a cunning hand and artistic maturity.” Even a superficial hearing of this work must surely impress the listener. It is clear that the composer has not fallen into the trap he had feared. He has created a canvas that is both well-written and fundamentally moving. It is a great work.
However contemporary reviewers, although impressed, were a little disappointed that Goossens had not pushed at the boundaries of modernism. It was perceived as lacking a sense of adventure and an individual voice. Goossens wrote to his parents that “They [reviewers] would have liked me to have written something ultra-modern and full of modern clichés which would have enabled them to write that I was writing music which didn't come naturally to me.”

Unfortunately this CD was the last major recording to come from the baton of Richard Hickox – and is typically superb. One is left wondering if this recording was part of a planned Chandos cycle of Goossens’ music. It is a project that may now no longer come to fruition. However we must be thankful for the Vernon Handley recordings although I am not convinced that these are readily available.

Please read the full review at MusicWeb International


Anonymous said...

John, I enjoy your blog hugely!
You may be interested to know that the ABC Handley recordings ARE currently available:

Anonymous said...

I apologize for posting my comment twice. I missed to read that the blog author must approve the posting first.
Also I have to apologize for offering a link which was already given by John a few days earlier in another Goossens post.