EUGENE GOOSSENS: Complete Music for Violin & Piano – Robert Gibbs, v./ Gusztáv Fenyő, p. – Naxos

by | Jul 26, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

EUGENE GOOSSENS: Complete Music for Violin and Piano — Violin Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 21; Lyric Poem, Op. 35; Old Chinese Folk-Song (from Yang-tse-Kiang), Op. 4, No. 1; Romance (from Act II of Don Juan de Mañara), Op. 57; Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 50 – Robert Gibbs, violin / Gusztáv Fenyő, piano – Naxos 8.572860, 71:34 ***1/2:
Today, Eugene Goossens (1893–1962) is remembered mostly as a conductor. He had stints with the Rochester Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, and Sydney Symphony, among other orchestras, and recorded extensively for EMI, DGG, and, most memorably, for Everest—a series of early-stereo recordings that rivaled RCA and Mercury in terms of high fidelity. But Goossens was also an accomplished violinist and the composer of many works, including symphonies and operas. Some of his orchestral music has turned up on CD recently, but I confess the current recording of Goossens’ music for violin and piano is my first experience of his work. It’s fluent, highly expressive stuff, maybe a bit too hot-house steamy for some tastes.
Like Delius, Goossens was an English composer, born in London, but with continental roots, his family hailing from Bruges in the Flemish part of Belgium. It could be argued that like Delius’s music, Goossens’ doesn’t sound very English, his influences being chiefly Debussy, Ravel, Strauss, and Stravinsky. It’s easy to hear the influence of the French Impressionists on the music for violin and piano, harder to hear that of Strauss and Stravinsky, though Goossens’ brand of chromaticism has some of the earmarks of Austro-German late Romanticism—again, like Delius, though Goossens’ idiom is more advanced.
The First Sonata of 1918 starts with a bustling, somewhat pedestrian theme that Goossens manages to transform in interesting ways, the movement ending up more engaging than its material initially suggests. The second movement is lush, even over-ripe, a languid sprawl that, oddly enough, sounds a bit like movie-music Orientalism. The last movement is cast, unconventionally, as a scherzo. It’s Goossens at his most Debussian, a jolly jaunt for both instruments, though a rather saccharine middle section lets it down. Like this middle bit, I find the Lyric Poem (completed in 1920) too gushily sentimental, although it’s very nicely written for the two instruments.
There’s more Viennese-style late Romanticism in the Romance based on a theme from Goossens’ opera Don Juan de Mañara, written for Jascha Heifetz. If you like Korngold, you should like this.
But for me the finest piece is the Second Sonata of 1930. Gossens hasn’t shucked his Impressionist influences, but there’s a greater emotional refinement here, the highly chromatic writing tougher, the figuration more memorable. The first movement is coolly languid, the second, a sicilienne, is a bit more sultry, while the last movement, following a dark Molto moderato introduction, alternates sections of dance-like vivacity and halting introspection, capped by a bravura finish. Nice music.
The performances are good. English violinist Robert Gibbs and Hungarian-born, Scotland-based pianist Gusztáv Fenyő make an effective team. However, Gibbs’s intonation is not always solid, and he gets off to a rocky start in the First Sonata, though things improve markedly later in the program. I have no such issues with Fenyő’s playing; he has a natural sympathy for English music (he’s featured on the Naxos recording of the Delius violin sonatas) and brings warmth and color to Goossens’ works. Very decent sound as well, plus appropriate cover art: a painting by English Post-Impressionist Spencer Frederick Gore.
—Lee Passarella

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