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Alexander GOEHR (b. 1932)
Little Symphony op. 15 (1963) [28:04]
String Quartet No. 2 op. 23 (1967) [23:01]
Piano Trio op. 20 (1966) [19:49]
London Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar; Allegri Quartet; Orion Trio.
rec. 15 August 1964 (Little Symphony); no details for other items. ADD
First issued on LP: Philips SAL 3497 (Little Symphony); Argo ZRG 748.
original recordings made in association with British Council.
LYRITA SRCD.264 [71:03]

Experience Classicsonline


Goehr’s so-called "Little" Symphony of 1963 was written in memory of his father, the German-born conductor and composer Walter Goehr. The title refers to the instrumental forces used, not to the length or emotional scope of the work, which is otherwise on a large scale. First performed in York Minster, it was recorded the following year by the same forces when it was originally coupled with Tippett’s Concerto for Orchestra. This pairing was singularly appropriate in one aspect; both composers make use of contrasting instrumental groupings as a means of articulating the structure. Unlike his older colleague, however Alexander Goehr uses a modified form of serial technique in the work - perhaps as a tribute to his father’s interest in the music of Schoenberg and his contemporaries. Walter Goehr had made an extensive study of Mussorgsky’s Catacombs movement (in Pictures at an Exhibition) and his son uses a modified version of the chord sequence of that movement as a means of launching the work. Thus, having stated the sequence in the tiny opening movement, the second movement comprises a set of variations on it. The third movement is a brief, delicate scherzo and the finale an elegiac summing-up of what has gone before, including a brief quotation from Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony. A finely crafted work, although perhaps lacking the last degree of individuality to make it truly memorable.

Both the Second Quartet and the Piano Trio display the composer’s assurance in articulating his musical material within the overall structure. The Allegri Quartet gave the first performance of the Quartet, while that of the Trio was the result of a commission from Yehudi Menuhin; here it is played by the Orion Trio. In the Quartet Goehr casts his opening movement as an extended set of variations, contrasting serene and agitated passages. Originally this constituted the whole of the work, but feeling this would benefit from two extra movements Goehr went on to compose a brief scherzo and a lento conclusion, described by Goehr as "continuous melody". The opening Con anima of the Piano Trio also uses variation form; this is followed by a long, slow concluding movement.

Writing in The Musical Times of February 1974, Stephen Walsh speaks highly of these works, linking them to the chamber music tradition of Beethoven and Bartók in their combination of originality and tradition. He felt, however, that, while Goehr effectively held the listener’s interest in the opening movements of each work, later in the piece the musical argument lost impetus, so that the listener’s concentration lapses; this is particularly evident in some of the slower sections which the composer recognised are also challenging for the performers themselves.

Excellent analogue sound for all works and informative booklet notes by Paul Conway.

Ewan McCormick

see also review by Rob Barnett






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