Eugene Goossens: London Recordings Volume 1 = BALAKIREV: Islamey (orch. Casella); TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Le Coq d’Or–Suite; BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances – New Symphony Orchestra (Balakirev)/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ London Symphony Orchestra (Rimsky-Korsakov)/Eugene Goossens – Historical-Recordings HRCD 0078, 50:00 [www.historical-recordings.co.uk] *****:
Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) has more representation of his enormous gifts for color and visceral excitement in these restorations, 1930-1938, made in London. The program opens with Balakirev’s often wildly exciting 1869 Islamey–an Oriental Fantasy which Alfredo Casella orchestrated shortly before the composer’s death in 1910. Balakirev claimed that several of the melodies had been played for him by a Circassian prince in the course of the composer’s sojourn to the Caucasus. The second tune supposedly derives from a Tatar melody popular in the Crimea. Goossens’ recording (27 April 1930) despite its age resonates with a fiery Russo-Oriental energy that concludes with a thrilling coda.
The Nutcracker Suite hardly needs explanation or apology. Goossens (3 September 1937) moves the first four dances along quickly and briskly, though the entries remain brisk and the rhythms nervously energized. With the Arabian Dance, however, we hear Goossens’ achieving the sensuality and undulating mystery we associate with Stokowski’s often voluptuous sound. The bassoon and flute combine over plucked strings to realize a fluid and aerial Chinese Dance, whose triangle and increasing momentum make the episode infectious. The Mirlitons’ Dance enjoys a lovely transparency of sound in the winds and no little menacing drama in the middle section. The expansive approach to the Waltz of the Flowers conveys a distinctly French taste to the proceedings, including a ravishing harp cadenza. The upbeats more than tie the waltz to the Johann Strauss tradition, while the melodic stretches and rubati churn the sequence into Russian cream. The London Philharmonic’s cello section warrants the price of admission.
Rimsky-Korsakov might have retired from composition after the publication of his opera The Invisible City of Kitezh, but he felt compelled in 1907 to compose a “razor-sharp satire of the autocracy, of Russian imperialism and of the Russo-Japanese war” into which the Tsar had calamitously thrust his country. The pompous clown of a dictator King Dodon clearly parodies the Tsar, who prohibited performances of The Golden Cockerel. Goossens’ performance (9 May 1938) conveys the arrogance and destructive pride of the principal while maintaining a wiry and splendidly etched melodic line that often moves in transparent counterpoint. One would have to wait almost twenty years for an inscription–from Igor Markevitch–to match it. The LSO brass justify their international repute for top notch intonation and chiseled, layered entries. King Dodon on the March carries a ceremonial bluster that quite captures the composer’s frothy irony. The “love scene” between Dodon and the Queen of Shemakha projects a thin nasal sound in the strings and reeds that perhaps undercuts the lust and ambition of the plot, with its seductive charm, a political “resolution” accomplished without violence. For the last scene, Wedding and Lamentable Death of King Dodon, Goossens unleashes his LSO with the same deftly blistering colorful speed we know from the Albert Coates manipulation of that ensemble’s stunning capacity for accurate velocity of execution.
The Borodin Polovtsian Dances (16 July 1937), happily, do not suffer any anti-climactic consequence of having followed the passionate Rimsky-Korsakov performance. Goossens chooses to open with strings and harp, a brief sequence that might have presaged the Danse Macabre of Saint-Saens, except that lovely soft winds waft at the flaps of our tents while a muezzin call floats into the night. Then, the music explodes in dervish colors and diaphanous panoply that move with fervent authority–matched only by Mitropoulos in his New York Philharmonic performance–into the “Stranger in Paradise” sequence, itself a testament to a cool seamless sensuality that must be heard to be believed. The last series of dances vibrate with masculine vigor and feminine allure at once, intensely volatile, yet under a brilliantly nuanced leash or whip that evokes Borodin’s especial mystery to perfection.
A gloriously vivid sonic document!