RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade, Op. 35; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (arr. Ravel) – London Symphony Orchestra (Rimsky-Korsakov) /Royal Philharmonic Orchestra /Sir Eugene Goossens
Guild GHCD 2376, 76:38 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) came from a highly musical family in London, his father and grandfather both having been conductors, and his brother, Leon, a distinguished oboe soloist. A trained violinist himself, Eugene Goossens by 1915 had already gleaned encouragement to appear at the podium, and by 1921 he began making records. In 1947 Goossens accepted posts with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music that raised his status in Australia to stellar heights, but his fateful encounter with the notorious Rosaleen Norton led to a scandal which forced Goossens to flee back to England in 1956. Still respected among musicians, however, Goossens had the privilege of leading Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (26, 28 September 1957), while the Scheherazade with the LSO comes from sessions in 1959.
For the stereo version of Scheherazade Goossens has the violin solo of leader Hugh Maguire (b. 1927), who had that very year assumed the post as part of the restructuring of the LSO. With his canny attention to orchestral detail, Goossens builds a splendid set of Arabian Nights tales, surely a colorful rival to the Beecham inscription with the Royal Philharmonic and its fine Canadian-born leader, Steven Staryk (b. 1932). The oboe solo in The Kalandar Prince section alone would take the berries, were not the strings and battery equally luminous in The Young Prince and the Princess and the spectacularly feverish Festival at Baghdad. A symphony with violin obbligato, the music brings out the virtuoso capacities of both ensemble–listen to the flute and trumpet riffs in the last movement–and conductor, the original Everest recording extremely resonant in the extreme ranges without distortion, Goossens urging the tempos in no uncertain terms.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition has had its share of “historic performances,” by Koussevitzky–the man who commissioned Ravel to orchestrate the piano suite original–Cantelli, Toscanini, Bernstein, Reiner, Karajan, and Rattle, and to these we can add that of Goossens , inscribed originally for HMV. The playing of the explosive, almost 12-tone Gnomus section alone warrants our attention, the slides and dissonances in bravura form, the very envy of Stravinsky. The Old Castle emanates a particularly sensuous air – leisurely and aristocratic. After the lithe antics at the Tuileries, the Polish ox-cart Bydlo lumbers forward, an earthy and elemental force whose power shakes the ground under our feet. The chicks’ ballet from Trilby plays like a perversely-wound musical box, followed by the ethnic heavy-breathing of Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle. The alternation of scherzi with lugubrious adagios continues through the hectic and lively Limoges market, only to confront Death in several incarnations. The Roman sepulcher and the colloquy in a dead language smack of Liszt and the Gothic side of Berlioz while they point to Respighi. The visceral even coarse energy of the last two sections--Baba Yaga and The Great Gate of Kiev–infuse a majestic portent and pageantry into the score requisite to their folk, religious, and fairy-tale origins. Monumental and measured, the Goossens performance rings with aesthetic and sonic wonderment.