GOOSSENS CINCINNATI SYMPHONY, Vol. I = DELIUS (arr. Beecham): A Walk to the Paradise Garden; WALTON: Violin Concerto; VAUGHN WILLIAMS: A London Symphony – Jascha Heifetz, violin/ Eugene Goossens, cond. Cincinnati SO – PRISTINE PASC 654 mono (76:18) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Between 1931 and 1946 Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, having succeeded Fritz Reiner. Among the several fine achievements Goossens realized in the recording studio – along with his Tchaikovsky “Little Russian” Symphony – stands his February 19-20, 1941 document of the London Symphony (1914) of Vaughan Williams, a kind of affectionate, musical portrait of a great city from one of its admirers. In the opening movement, Andante tranquillo, we hear, in sonata form, an evocation of the Westminster chimes. After a vigorously moody opening movement, whose fading string tremolandos from Goossens have the recapitulation made memorable, the second movement Lento – supposedly an evocation of Bloomsbury Square on a November afternoon set as variations on three themes – employs effective scoring among the woodwinds, specifically the English horn, and viola to convey a briskly cool day in environs one loves.
The Scherzo serves as a fluttery nocturne in the style of Debussy’s Fêtes, the figures urging forward in gusts, at first fugato and then in a decisively folkish style. The sheer transparency of the Cincinnati strings and brass impress us as the equal of anything the orchestras in Philadelphia or New York could have produced in this era. The last two movements form a grave, sweeping march and its epilogue, homage to the passing of a bustling lifestyle, even as Vaughan Williams utilizes cyclic principles to revivify elements from the first movement. The misty Epilogue quietly accepts Fate and the ravages of Time as inevitable. Dedicated to composer George Butterworth (1885-1916) – the fellow composer who helped Vaughn William reconstruct his lost score of the work after its disappearance during WW I, and who died by sniper fire at the Battle of the Somme – the music occasionally utters nobly tragic thoughts about mortality. The seamless account by Goossens sets a bar that few conductors could match, and side joins by Mark Obert-Thorn (from RCA DM-916) remain undetectable in a restoration of pearly transparency.
The program opens with Goossens’ last recording session with the orchestra, his February 14,1946 performance of A Walk to the Paradise Garden in the arrangement by Goossens’ former mentor, Sir Thomas Beecham. An interlude between scenes 5 and 6 of the neapolitan opera A Village Romeo and Juliet (1907), a tale of love and death, the music offers a pastoral, bucolic evocation, often in B Major, that exploits the Cincinnati Symphony’s wind and brass sections effectively. The small orchestra arrangement highlights the responsory style of warm strings and individual winds, like the oboe and flute. For the plot of the opera, the couple walks between a fairground and a mountain inn, and the music invokes something of the natural panorama and ethereal stillness that will embrace their tragic fate.
The Violin Concerto in B Minor (1939) has a dual paternity, the composer’s love for Alice Wimbourne and the 1936 commission (300 pounds) from stellar virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, who wanted a “demanding piece.” In the course of the work’s neo-Romantic intricacies, we hear the influence of Prokofiev’s G Minor Concerto. Despite some worrisome moments in the creation of the last movement, which Heifetz had to “jazz up,” the premiere in Cleveland under Artur Rodzinski (December 7, 1939) was received by critics as “a stirring performance of a work of character and quality.” A favorite designation from Walton, sognando (dreaming), sets the tone of this lyrical concerto by way of violin solo, low strings and harp, although its bravura moments enjoy a brash allure. The Heifetz patina remains slick, almost glassy, with sterling, rapid passagework and soaring phrases that approximate vocal bel canto.
The second movement, Presto capriccioso alla napolitana, allegedly was composed in Italy, and it blends tarantella elements with aspects a wry waltz, deftly maneuvered by Heifetz and Goossens’ musicians. The Trio section is marked Canzonetta, another evocation of Italian song, here exploiting the Heifetz flute tone. The last movement, Vivace, with its opening, Prokofiev metrics, quickly relents into a second subject once more joyfully Mediterranean in character. As the movement near its close, Heifetz has an accompanied cadenza that conveys the sognando affect, given the seductive, consecutive thirds in the solo part. Obert-Thorn has effected a sense of artistic closure here, proffering on the same disc Goossens’ first recording (February 18, 1941) with the Cincinnati Symphony, the Walton, having begun with his final session, the Delius.