Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op.36
Le poème de l’extase, Op.54
Balakirev, orch. Casella
Islamey – Oriental fantasy
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra [Pictures]
Sir Eugene Goossens
Recorded in February 1956 & September 1957 (Pictures) in Kingsway Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: MEDICI MASTERS
Duration: 78 minutes
London-born Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), one of the Goossens dynasty (oboist Leon was his brother, harpists Marie and Sidonie were his sisters), was not only a conductor, holding appointments in Rochester, Cincinnati and Sydney, but a fine composer, too, whose early career included playing the violin in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra and as an assistant to Beecham.
It’s good to find Medici Masters issuing recordings that otherwise might be confined to oblivion, for while there is (obviously) no shortage of versions of these works, all these collected here are of fine interpretative quality, superbly played, and captured in stereo sound that may (now) lack the optimum in fullness of tone and dynamic clout but which is naturally balanced, clean, and successfully re-mastered by Paul Baily in that tones have not been compromised by excessive filtering and the reproduction remains thoroughly convincing.
Especially impressive is Goossens’s conducting of ThePoem of Ecstasy, which here shimmers with expectancy and rides the crest of a wave to an exhilarated climax, a performance of fluid phrasing and careful detailing that compels attention in its glorious sweep. It is not the most ‘sensational’ of accounts, but it is very satisfying in its address and vision. Beforehand is the Rimsky-Korsakov, which enjoys a very expressive introduction, fiery allegros and dignified oratory.
Two orchestrations of piano works complete the disc. Casella’s version of Islamey tends to be overshadowed by Lyapunov’s (although Ormandy also recorded it) and while the Italian’s scoring lacks Russian depth and edge (the same criticism could be levelled at Ravel’s transcription of ‘Pictures’) there is much to like that is sunny and translucent. From the Orient to the Mediterranean!
The Royal Philharmonic takes over for Pictures and begins with a fine flourish of brass – the year-later sound notably more open than that for Islamey. It’s a solid performance, not lacking imagination, though, and finding the slower numbers, such as ‘The Old Castle’ (here with a brooding saxophone solo), the most successful: some pedestrian tempos deaden the livelier ones. The contrasts of fortune between ‘Goldenberg and Schmuÿle’ are well conveyed, so too the glower of ‘Catacombs’, with ‘The Hut on Fowl’s Legs’ evincing weighty menace and a touch of spook and ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ being imposingly grand. Not the most fantastical of performances but, often, a musically rewarding one.
Recommended to collectors with or without the original LPs! Maybe Medici can now issue Goossens’s Sydney Symphony recordings of Beethoven (Symphony No.2) and Mendelssohn (‘Scottish’ Symphony)?