Thomas Schippers conducts Tchaikovsky … Eugene Goossens conducts Scriabin & Prokofiev [First Hand Records]

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
Réverie, Op.24
Symphony No.1 in D (Classical)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Thomas Schippers [Tchaikovsky]
Sir Eugene Goossens [Scriabin]
Pro Arte Orchestra
Sir Eugene Goossens [Prokofiev]

Tchaikovsky recorded 27 & 28 May 1957 in Kingsway Hall, London; Scriabin also recorded there on 15 February 1956; and Prokofiev on 25 April 1958 in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2013
Duration: 64 minutes



There are enough wonderful Tchaikovsky 4s around (Mravinsky, Szell, to name but two) for this one under Thomas Schippers to be but an indication of what might have been. Of Dutch origin Schippers was born in 1930 in Kalamazoo (Michigan) and died at the young age of 47, possibly better known as an opera rather than a symphonic conductor for all that he was at the time of his death music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. This Tchaikovsky is good without being particularly distinctive, and there are times when the Philharmonia Orchestra seems on auto-pilot rather than galvanised by its 27-year-old guest. Yet parts of the first movement are thrilling, and there is no-doubting the conductor’s shapely unfolding of this balletic and passionate opener. Perhaps slightly adverse feelings are dictated by the sound, which while perfectly serviceable, does not do justice to the hallowed acoustic of Kingsway Hall and on its own terms is dry and somewhat strident. However, First Hand Records is to be congratulated on producing this first stereo release – the 33CX mono LP being the more familiar for many years.

If there is some disappointment in listening to this version of a great symphony, it has more to do with expectation than what is heard, for this is a perfectly decent performance, if somewhat in fits and starts emotionally. The slow movement, beginning with a somewhat inelegantly phrased oboe solo, presumably from Sidney Sutcliffe, further suggests that orchestra and conductor hadn’t quite connected, but this Andantino does persuasively turns on its dark side, and the succeeding pizzicato scherzo is attractively perky. The finale is more deliberate in pace than the norm, to advantage, although some might find Schippers no more than pedantic; certainly the Philharmonia seems trapped between getting the notes safely into place and being expressively inhibited, the coda overly dogged if accelerating in its final measures. Nevertheless, as a snapshot of a talented going-places musician, this is an interesting find.

But it’s the pieces conducted by London-born Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) that steal this release. Goossens, whose siblings were Léon the oboist and Marie the harpist, conducts a shimmering-erotic version of Scriabin’s Réverie, the Philharmonia enraptured. The sound may be mono, but the performance is multi-dimensional. Now in stereo – like the Tchaikovsky, taken from the masters – Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony scintillates and crackles with detail and interaction. The Pro Arte Orchestra (long fallen by the wayside) plays with precision and relish for Goossens. The timpani may distort occasionally but this is such an invigorating and touching rendition, that it scarcely matters; and anyway the sound is bright and clear. It’s a must-hear and play-again account.

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