Goossens in Australia = MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 “Scottish”; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; Saint-Saens: Danse Macabre, Op. 40 – ABC Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens
Historic-Recordings HRCD 00018, 74:02 [www.historic-recordings.co.uk] ****:
Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) must evoke our admiration and our sympathy: as scion of an eminent musical family, he was fully equipped to reign as major conductor in British and international circles. As a flawed human being, his downfall from a public scandal in Australia–occurring barely a year after his knighthood–led to personal disgrace and severe limits on his concert engagements. The performances here restored by Damian Rogan, taken from HMV masters, date from the month of April 1952, the Beethoven (21-22 April) and the Mendelssohn (9 April) fondly remembered–and coveted–as classical LPs. That Historic-Recordings give us the elusive Danse Macabre (10 April) makes this restoration even more valuable.
Beethoven’s D Major Symphony under Goossens opens with a broad approach to the Adagio Molto, savoring the temporary shift to B-flat before the A Major transition to a virile statement of the D Major Allegro con brio, a vigorous exposition, indeed. Goossens, typical of his love of orchestral color, accentuates the gurglings and occasional mumbles from high and low winds and strings, the metric flow an unceasing onrush of primal energies. The rocket figures enjoy a sinewy drive that keeps the various transitional moments brisk, intelligent, elastic. The A Major Larghetto, an extended, bucolic fancy, basks in folkish serenity, both an expansion of a classical cassation or serenade and a presage of the later Pastoral Symphony. Notable horn work near the end of the movement adds to an already captivating reading. Beethoven’s first exercise in symphonic scherzo receives just a hint of ritard in its rambunctiously rustic musings, but the bass fiddles sound as if, like Pinocchio’s whale, they could swallow us all. Oboe and bassoon enjoy a full measure of puckish humor. The last movement, Allegro molto, Goossens holds in check throughout, urging solemnity and dignity over sheer Dionysiac abandon. The tonal beauty of the ABC Sydney woodwinds seems to warrant Goossens’ lavish attentions. The rapid string passages of the extended coda resound beautifully into the heady mix of the last bars.
The Saint-Saens Danse Macabre is a work I come to by way of Mitropoulos and Toscanini. I knew not of Goossens’ rendition prior to this disc’s arrival on in my sound-system. No violin soloist receives credit, but he digs into his instrumental version of the poet Cazalis’ words of Death’s gathering midnight souls for a round dance with hearty relish. Harp, xylophone, and night-wind strings and woodwinds hold sway, and Goossens makes the eerie convocation sensuously alluring, perhaps in anticipation of Goossens’ own predilections.
I knew the Goossens inscription of the 1842 Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony via an RCA Bluebird LP. A lovely cross between the breezy Toscanini and monumental Klemperer approach, the reading possesses a natural aerial fluency of expression. As always, Goossens’ grasp of the folk idioms in the score is perfect, rustic but eminently classical in shape. The latter part of the first movement, with its usual, Mendelssohnian polyphonies, really bears fire. The pairs of flutes and bassoons can be heard in their respective contributions, along with the horn and tympani. The acoustic of the Great Hall of Sydney University proves a warm ambient venue, and we can only wish HMV had taken more advantage of conductor and ensemble to capture Goossens’ rare art in the modern music he championed as his true forte. An important restoration.