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Goossens: Symphony No. 1; Phantasy Concerto Hybrid SACD - DSD


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Audio CD, Hybrid SACD - DSD, February 24, 2009
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Product Details

  • Conductor: Richard Hickox
  • Composer: Eugene Goossens
  • Audio CD (February 24, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Hybrid SACD - DSD
  • Label: Chandos
  • ASIN: B001ONSW9S
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #367,196 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Phantasy Concerto, for piano & orchestra, Op. 60: 4. Finale. Vivo (in uno) - In tempo ma languido - Tempo 1 - Grazioso scherzando - T
2. Symphony No. 1, Op. 58: 3. Divertimento. Allegro vivo - L'istesso tempo - Coda - L'istesso tempo
3. Symphony No. 1, Op. 58: 4. Finale. Andante moderato - Alla breve (con moto) - Con slancio - Alla breve (con moto - Un poso

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Chandos Featured release for February will be the final recording made by Richard Hickox. Intended as the first in a cycle of orchestral works by Goossens this disc offers the premiere recording of Phantasy Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, and the rarely recorded Symphony No.1 and serves as a tribute to Hickox and his fantastic legacy of recordings on Chandos.

Though principally remembered as a conductor, during the 1920s British composer Eugene Goossens was a prolific composer, regarded as one of the foremost British composers alongside Bax, Bridge and Walton. Sadly his music has been all but forgotten for the colourful, expressive nature of his music fell out of fashion on the 1950s and 1960s. A recent reviewer of Goossens' music wrote, If you have ever gleaned the idea that Goossens is inclined to grey modernism or to windy rhetoric, prepare to have your preconceptions well and truly shattered. His music is suggestive of fellow composers of the era, namely Holst and Bliss.

Having grown up in Britain, Goossens accepted an invitation to come to the United States as the first chief conductor of the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra in New York State. He was there for twenty years, before moving to Australia serving as Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. His music and character proved a great influence on the Australia classical audience; in fact he is recognised as one of the most noted figures in Australia music in recent years.

The rewarding Phantasy Concerto, Op. 60 for Piano and Orchestra was written for the celebrated Spanish pianist José Iturbi who gave its first performance in 1944. The work, particularly the slow movement was influenced by my re-reading at that time of Edgar Allan Poe's The Devil in the Belfry, and might be said to reflect something of the fantastic and sinister character of that story, though in no way being a literal depiction of it, wrote Goossens. The concerto was the outcome of a discussion between Iturbi and the composer over the lack of new piano concertos and especially on a smaller scale. The result is a four movement piano concerto in compressed sonata form. The solo part is more of a concertante than a display concerto, with a tendency to make the solo part an integral part of the orchestral texture. Goossens used the word conversational to describe this relationship between soloist and orchestra. This premiere recording is coupled with the melodic and imaginative Symphony No.1.

Review

Eugene Goosens's Phantasy Concerto and First Symphony are superbly played by pianist Howard Shelley with the late Richard Hickox leading the Melbourne Symphony on his last recording (hybrid SACD 5068). The concerto sounds like Cyril Scott's concertos - languid piano writing and atmospheric accompaniment - although Scott's music has more profile. The Symphony is a more striking work, beautifully orchestrated and skilled. Marvelous sound. -- Turok's Choice, Paul Turok, June 2009

Executive Summary: Mostly well-constructed, conservative late-romantic music, sympathetically performed. Perhaps best known as a conductor, Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) was also a fine composer. His music rarely soared to the heights of works of the likes Vaughan Williams and Britten, but it had character all of its own. The thematic material is a bit more angular than that of his contemporaries. One does not always come away with a firm sense of a regularity of phrase structure. Notable exceptions on this disc are the slow and scherzo movements of the Symphony. As with much of the music of this period, many stylistic tendencies were "in the air." One can hear the influence of Scott, especially his moving work, "Early One Morning," Bax, Delius and others.

The Phantasy Concerto of 1942 is given its first recording. To my ears it is something of a troubling work. Its constantly shifting tempi and undistinguished thematic material seem to leave it with a bit of a wandering quality. The progression of the compositional rhetoric seems confused, but then again, it is supposed to be a fantasy. The musical argument moves from one section to the next without much of a sense of a logical development of thematic material. A passage of tonal ambiguity is followed by a more conservative lyrical section. Chords seem to have, from time to time, added tones which do not seem to support the overall stylistic considerations.

Those tones almost seem like an affectation of a sort, producing some frustration on the part of this listener. One section in the third movement offers a passage accompanied by castanets. Perhaps the only rationale being that the work was written for the Spanish pianist, conductor, Jose Iturbi! That is not to say that music does not have many appealing, reflective moments. According to the program notes, the composer provided a "non-musical genesis" to the work. "The work, particularly the slow movement, was influenced by my rereading at that time of Edgar Allan Poe's The Devil in the Belfry, and might be said to reflect something of the fantastic and sinister character of that story, though in no way being a literal depiction of it." Perhaps Poe's writing made fine sense from a literary perspective: however, it appears to this listener that Goossens' musical manifestation of that idea left something to be desired.

More convincing is the Symphony #1 dating from 1938-40. While the Symphony predates the Concerto by only a year, the Symphony seems to find the composer more at ease with his materials. The work is cast in four movements. It has the sweep of other fine works like the Symphonies of Arthur Benjamin and Ernest Moeran. Some of the angularity in the thematic material is still present but one finds a more clearly defined phrase structure and compositional logic.

The high points of the work are the incredibly lovely slow movement and the delightful third movement, entitled "Divertimento." The slow movement is truly one of the great romantic expressions to be found in British music. The "Divertimento" contains some of the most attractive thematic material of the work. The finale seems a bit over-wrought.

As always, Howard Shelley brings great brilliance to the music. His playing is marked by an abundance of clarity and technical precision. He probably makes the best case possible for the Concerto. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the third recording of the Symphony. I will give Hickox's reading a place above the others, if for no other reason than his wonderful readings of the second and third movements of the Symphony.

According to the program booklet, this was Hickox's last recording. Listening to the slow movement of the Symphony, one is reminded of what a wonderful gift he gave all of us through his many recordings. While he may not have reached for the last ounce of expression, you can sense a great love and respect for the music in everything he did -- Classical Net, Karl Miller, April 2009

I must put 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. However, there have been sufficient releases on vinyl, cassette and CD over the years to be able to form an appreciation of his exciting corpus of music.

I first came to Goossens 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.

The Phantasy Concerto for piano was written for the Spanish pianist José Iturbi. It was given its first performance in Cincinnati on 25 February 1944 and was later broadcast by the BBC in November of the same year. It received its first London public performance at the 1949 Promenade Concerts. I guess that it has remained unheard since that time.

It is not necessary to give an analysis of this work here as the sleeve-notes provide virtually all the information it is possible to write. However two things are worth quoting - firstly the composer's own description of the concerto: "The work, particularly the slow movement was influenced by my re-reading at that time Edgar Allan Poe's The Devil in the Belfry, and might be said to reflect something of the fantastic and sinister character of that story, though in no way being a literal description of it." It is, perhaps, pertinent to this description that the Second World War was in its final year when this work was first heard. Although this Phantasy is in no way a `war concerto', the `sinister' mood certainly pervades much, but certainly not all, of this Concerto. There are a number of positive passages that maybe look beyond VJ day to a time when hope is the prevailing emotion.

Secondly I want to quote The Times review of the first London performance. After noting that it could only be at a Proms Concert that it is possible to hear a full concert of Sibelius's music followed by two sizeable modern works: in this case Goossens's Phantasy and his Sinfonietta, the reviewer writes that this music "may be seen as a child of his time, of yesterday perhaps rather than today, but still in touch with contemporary idiom and contemporary taste." He continues, by suggesting that the concerto is "like Sunday's child, blithe and bonny and gay even if [it is] not good all the time". But perhaps his final comment is the most pertinent and saves today's reviewer from searching for a succinct description of this work. He suggests that this work may be "classed as a volume of musical autobiography: there is a lustrous veneer of nineteen-twentyish gallicism that masks, but not for long, the essential anglicism of, say, Delius and Bax, a light coating of fun à la Gershwin and even a good soupçon of good honest Australian frankness."

Goossens' archetypes are usually stated to be Gustav Holst and Arthur Bliss, however I sometimes think that this is disingenuous. The reality is that his Phantasy `ain't like no-one.' However, it would be fair to say that there are contemporary American influences as well as a lush `film-like' romanticism that is never allowed to overwhelm the music. If I was to suggest an influence it would be actually be Cyril Scott.

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."

The most damning criticism was from The Times reviewer. He suggested that "the Symphony, like his previous music, is a matter of skill rather than imagination."

As a listener approaching this great work after a period of some 65 years it is relatively easy to put aside stylistic prejudice. We now no longer feel it necessary to condemn a work because it is not deemed to belong to a particular school or to follow an expected compositional process or stylistic milieu.

This Symphony is a stunning work. I have always - since I first heard it - regarded it as one of the great essays of twentieth century symphonic literature. It is debatable as to whether it is to be regarded as a `war' symphony as the composer seemingly eschewed any particular programme. However the variety in this work suggests the whole range of emotions - from hope to despair - which would have been the prevailing moods at the time of composition.

It is easy to suggest influences and allusions in this work - perhaps Bax can be invoked as lying behind some of the more moody passages. Rob Barnett has suggested that the "dank and willowy world" of Frank Bridge can be heard. And echoes of Vaughan Williams can be noted at various points in the score's development. Yet the dynamics of this work, the outworking of the formal design and the colourful orchestration are all Goossens' own endeavour. It is unfair to suggest that his Symphony is in any way a parody or a pastiche of any other work.

At times it is beautiful, occasionally humorous, often disturbing. But at all times this First Symphony holds our interest and impresses our musical understanding. The programme notes are amongst the best I have ever seen for a CD. This is to be expected from Lewis Foreman. However, we are fortunate in having a great deal of commentary and analysis from Eugene Goossens himself.

Foreman has given generous quotations from these sources and has provided what is effectively a model sleeve-note for this release. This is the last major recording to come from the baton of Richard Hickox - and is typically superb. Also, hats off to Howard Shelley for mastering the intricacies of the Phantasy Concerto: it certainly sounds a considerable challenge.

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. -- MusicWeb International, John France, March 2009

This is announced as the final entry in the discography of Richard Hickox, who died last November at age 60, having recorded 282 CDs for Chandos alone in addition to several for EMI and Decca. It is a fascinating valediction, if an unplanned one, focusing on a composer who remains unknown to most of us outside his own country, though he had a significant international career as a conductor.

Eugène Goossens (1893-1962), distinguished member of a famous musical family, protégé of Diaghilev and Beecham, is barely remembered now even as the master conductor he was. The booklet cover is a photograph of Cincinnati at night, viewed from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River: Goossens composed both of these works during his tenure as conductor of the Cincinnati SO (1931-1946) and dedicated the Symphony to the orchestra's musicians. After Cincinnati he went to Sydney, as conductor of the Sydney SO and director of that city's conservatory, then returned to London, where he made some stunning recordings for EMI, Everest and other labels.

Both of these Cincinnati works exude a certain sense of drama and urgency, backed by a sure-handed exploitation of the resources of the modern orchestra that comes from knowing its machinery inside and out. The Symphony, according to Goossens, is not "programmatic" but does deal with "the eternal verities: life, love and death." Except for two or three pieces on 78s in the 1920s, Goossens did not record his own music; surely he would admire these committed performances by Shelley and Hickox and appreciate Chandos's wide-open sound and Lewis Foreman's comprehensive documentation. A splendid memorial to both Goossens and Hickox -- Soundstage.com, Richard Freed, May 2009

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By David Anthony Hollingsworth on September 29, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Who could have known (or even realized) that Sir Eugene Goossens' fame as a conductor would have possibly hinted his career as a composer of considerable stature (during his life and long afterwards)? I for one didn't (I shall confess). But luckily, I came across Dutton's reissue of Goossens' powerful recording of Bax's Second Symphony (which also includes, among other things, the conductor's "Tam O'Shanter" and Antill's "Corroboree" excerpts). I decided to investigate Goossens' music further and discovered a wonderful, explorative 3-disc ABC album of some of his major works (like the two symphonies, the Oboe Concerto, and even his earlier Variations on a Chinese Theme) ebulliently yet movingly performed by the late Vernon Handley and the major Australian orchestras. Immediately I was blown away and knocked over by the solidity, the beauty, and the unrelenting senses of adventurism and imagination page after page, passage after passage. And while Goossens was not terribly prolific and not quite in the same league as Bax, Vaughan-Williams, or even Walton, he undoubtedly poses serious challenges to the qualities and communicative impacts of their own music. Needless to say, this legendary conductor yet relatively obscured composer is indeed a force to be reckoned with.

A case in point here is Goossens' First Symphony. And allow me to state straight away that this work measures up to even the strongest symphonies of Bax and Vaughan-Williams in its melodic invention and its sheer strength in concentration of musical thought. This composer clearly knew how to work the ideas and to the point: no wandering, no padding, but straightforward yet ingenious and resourceful.
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By AndrewCF on July 12, 2013
Format: Audio CD
As the renown of English composer York Bowen seems to be flourishing, the renown of Eugene Goossens as a composer seems to be stagnant. Most people know Goossens as a conductor, in fact one of the three primary conductors for Diaghilev (the others are Monteux and Ansermet). So many fine composers of the 20th Century did double duty, perhaps most famously Leonard Bernstein and Gustav Mahler; in reality, many composers monetary survival depended on conducting and teaching rather than commissions. But it would be a shame if Goossens' talent as a composer was submerged by his relative success as a conductor. But even the critics of his own time and the editors of the New Grove seem to be unwilling or unable to acknowledge his very real talent.

Goossens the composer was unknown to me until I purchased the two-disc set Expressionismus (on the German Signum label). That set features the delightful children's suite, Kaleidoscope, hardly the kind of dissonant and decadent music of this subgenre. I was further intrigued by a short but haunting piece, By the Tarn, which appears in a collection of English miniatures conducted by Richard Hickox on EMI. Goossens is venerated in Australia, and the three-disc set that appears on the Aussie label ABC Classics (conducted by Vernon Handley) was a revelation. When the Symphony No. 1 and the Phantasy Concerto (this latter work is not duplicated on the ABC set) appeared on Chandos (Richard Hickox's last recording before his death), I knew I must own it. How sad that it took three years for Chandos to release Volume 2, now conducted by Chandos's busiest conductor, Andrew Davis. No doubt we shall have to wait another three years for Symphony No. 2.
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