GOOSSENS CINCINNATI SYMPHONY. Vol. 2, Studio Recordings 1941-1946 = TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 “Little Russian”; STRAVINSKY: Le Chant du Rossignol; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120 – Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/ Eugene Goossens – Pristine Audio PASC 691 (74:10) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Producer and Recording Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn continues his thorough resurrection of the Cincinnati tenure (1931-1946) of conductor Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), the recordings documented 1941-1946. While these performances were issued by RCA on 78 rpm shellacs that gave full credit to the principals, their early incarnation on LP, on the budget Camden label, attributed the Cincinnati Symphony work to the “Cromwell Symphony Orchestra” sans conductor. It was in this version (rec. 20 February 1941) that your reviewer purchased for his initial, recorded rendition of the Tchaikovsky “Little Russian” Symphony.
Under a former conductor, Ernst Kunwald, the Cincinnati Symphony made acoustic recordings 1917-1919 but produced no further records until late in Goossens’ tenure, beginning in February 1941. Obert-Thorn has arranged Goossens’ reading of the Schumann Fourth Symphony in D Minor (rec. 14 February 1946) to appear first, a performance of steady and lyric drama, without the heavy “metaphysical” import of readings from the likes of Furtwaengler and Bernstein. The first movement under Goossens proceeds with a lighthearted transparency of texture, despite the ominous figures in the low strings and brass.
The Cincinnati plays for its virtuoso status among American ensembles, the homogeneity of sound and technical facility easily a rival to Frederick Stock’s work in Chicago. The Romanze moves a bit hurriedly for my taste, not relishing the violin solo that weaves through the string tissue. The Scherzo projects the requisite pomp and ceremony, the woodwinds, brass, and timpani responsive and flexible in tempo and timbre. The Trio conforms to Schumann’s penchant for cyclic form, reprising the Romanze as a segue to the Langsam – Lebhaft grand finale. The pregnant pause and graduated buildup to the release of the finale’s energies enjoy a bold sense of (polyphonic) drama, though few match Furtwaengler and Cantelli for the most remarkable effects. The colloquy between strings and woodwinds emerges with gracious clarity, the transitions seamless.
Goossens harbored a fondness for the music of Igor Stravinsky, especially that composer’s capacity for vivid colors in firm ensemble discipline, what many musicians consider “the roughage” that cleans any orchestra sonorities of unnecessary excess. Le Chant du Rossignol (a “Symphonic Poem”) was recorded 25 January 1945. The poem or ballet of 1917 is an adaptation from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale that Stravinsky used as a basis for his first opera. He soon felt the music would be better served in the concert hall and not the theater. The suite proceeds in four sections, rather episodic and impressionistic, with a significant use of dissonant harmonies and percussion while the principal flute does the honors for the nightingale. Pentatonic scales abound as Stravinsky depicts the Imperial Chinese court and the Emperor’s desire for an eternal song, a wish that can only be fulfilled by a mechanical avian. We hear various rhythmic allusions to Le Sacre and Petrushka in a virtuoso color vehicle. Goossens’ performance marks the first complete version to be recorded. The remarkable clarity of the individual lines and splashy colors, even after almost 80 years, deserves note, especially through Obert-Thorn’s ministrations. The accompanied trumpet solo that concludes the suite leaves a haunting impression.
It is ironic that, of the many recordings Stravinsky himself led as a conductor, his one Tchaikovsky symphony effort was this same C Minor of 1881, with its decidedly nationalistic ambitions. Goossens molds the first movement, Andante sostenuto – Allegro vivo, with tender attentions, allowing Tchaikovsky’s use of the folk song “Down the Mother Volga” to grow in stature and resonate with the pungent authority due its life’s-blood function in Russian culture. The second movement, Andantino marziale, quasi moderato, gives us a transformed bridal march from Tchaikovsky’s discarded opera Undina. The rondo filigree utilizes another folk tune, “Spin o My Spinner,” as a reprise. The Cincinnati winds prove affectionately alert in this reading, and Goossens hasnever allows the repetitive rhythmic pulse to become inert or deadening. The interplay of strings and flute no less compels close listening, and the ensemble’s rhythmic facility has already forecast many of the sonorities in the composer’s ballet scores.
The third movement Scherzo, deft and vivacious, enjoys an immediate alertness, Allegro molto vivace. The sensibility manages a folkish atmosphere without quoting any folk tune directly. The Trio has a martial and contrapuntal character in gentle figures, flute solo and pizzicato episode. The Finale meant to serve as the rubric for the entire symphony, given its use of the Ukrainian folksong “Let the crane Soar.” Tchaikovsky follows Beethoven’s example of thematic statement and development in variations, almost his equivalent to the Eroica. The Cossack dance infectiousness is preserved in Goossens’ spirited realization, especially since Tchaikovsky dedicated the score to the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society. In his accompanying notes to this Pristine issue, Obert-Thorn quotes critic Robert Matthew-Walker’s judgment that Goossens’ Little Russian document is possibly the conductor’s “greatest recording and a reading which has not been equaled on disc.” So, my choice of the Camden LP purchase at $1.98 in 1959 wasn’t such a bad one, for an “anonymous” performance?