Goossens conducts Bax is the title of the collection but as the header of
this review indicates that we also hear an Australian score
as well as a very short piece by Goossens himself.
Goossens in the 1920s was a dynamo of
adventurous contemporary music-making in London. The 1930s and
the early 1940s saw him in Cincinnati. After this he became
the guiding light of concert life in Sydney where, until scandal
intervened, he was lionised and bathed in the city's celebrity.
His final years in London saw him steadily assert a modest presence
on radio and in concert. This welcome collection represents
him in three of the four decades.
The Bax Second Symphony is bound to be
the main draw here but more of that later. Goossens' Tintagel
blazes along making all other commercial recordings including
the excellent Bostock on ClassicO
seem languid. This is the fastest Tintagel on record
at 12:49 and one certainly senses the urgency of the passion
and of the Atlantic’s glimmering fury. There are a host of
small details where Goossens accelerates and yet there is time
for the sigh and for repose. The recording has had the Cedar
treatment so is cleaned of aural grit and debris. If you prefer
a more direct sound then try the historic Bax collection on
Mediterrranean was always something of a postcard - Bax
skilfully aping the archetypal Iberian palette. However the
fire of Tintagel carries over into Goossens’ live BBC
broadcast of the densest, most molten and brutally intense of
the Bax symphonies. While the other two Bax pieces here are
from the late 1920s - commercial recordings both - this version
of the Second Symphony is from the mid-1950s. It was a studio
event recorded as part of a then unfashionable cycle heroically
broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. In terms of commercial
comparators the spirit of this reading is more Fredman (Lyrita
- soon to be reissued on CD with the Leppard Fifth Symphony)
than late Handley
(part of the Chandos box set). Goossens whips the BBC players
into a tornado of the passions. The whole work has the headlong
fury of the best performances of Tchaikovsky's Francesca
da Rimini. The blast furnace rush at the end of the first
movement makes a fine illustration of Goossens’ total dedication.
Presumably this is also the way he played the symphony at its
London premiere in the 1920s. The andante eloquently
sustains the tension with a Celtic melody of deeply expressive
beauty. Here I would have liked it if Goossens had slowed things
down a little to relish the ineffable and masterly melody which
retains undimmed the power to move and shake the listener.
This long-lined theme can be heard in a seething lapidary Klimtian
haze at 5:01 onwards. The Second Symphony is a darkling work
looking forward to the Second Northern Ballad. Serenade
and torment are at work in one of the most beautiful melodies
in all classical music. The finale is again driven within an
inch of its life. Goossens, even at this stage in his career
and with a freight of disappointment weighing his shoulders,
would have nothing to do with routine. What a different world
it might have been for Bax had the first symphony to be recorded
been this one with Goossens rather than its more reflective-static
and certainly less dramatic successor with Barbirolli.
So much for the Bax title tracks. Goossens
also won both fame and notoriety in Australia. Much as Benjamin
introduced Vancouver audiences in the 1940s to mainstream modern
works of the previous two decades so did Goossens in Sydney.
He also supported native Australian composers in the most practical
way. John Antill was employed by the ABC as a balance engineer.
His aboriginal ballet score was written in 1946 having been
inspired by a real corroboree he had attended in 1913. It created
quite a stir with its colourful embracing of aboriginal culture.
The music is far from avant garde but its primitivistic
rhythmic material, avian voices, shamanic arcane, variegated
percussive colour, insect-like brittleness and Bartókian outbursts
made linkages in many directions including back to The Rite
of Spring. Lewis Foreman provides the liner notes and tells
us that Antill had not heard The Rite when he wrote Corroboree.
Goossens premiered a suite from the music in 1946 and took it
to London in October. It was performed as a completed ballet
in 1950. This was the work's first recording. There have been
The disc finishes with Goossens' own Tam
O'Shanter. It was one of some eighty acoustics made by Goossens.
His Tam is a tramping and cackling Liadov-style short
tone-poem. It amounts to a grand guignol scherzo with
a Scottish refrain curving in towards the end. And when it does
it comes amid a Graingerian uproar redolent of Strathspey
and Reel and The Warriors.
These are all mono recordings of course.
The work where there is the greatest need for the clarity and
impact of a modern recording is sadly enough the one with the
most fallible sound: Bax 2. It is such a shame that a proper BBC
transcription disc of the Second Symphony has not survived into
the hands of Dutton and Lewis Foreman. As it is the unshakable
strengths of this magnificently unflinching reading of the symphony
are heard as if through a glass very darkly.