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Goossens: Phantasy Concerto, Symphony No 1 / Hickox

Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 5068   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sir Eugene Goossens
Performer:  Howard Shelley
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


GOOSSENS Phantasy Concerto. Symphony No. 1 Richard Hickox, cond; Howard Shelley (pn); Melbourne SO CHANDOS 5068 (64:40)

Of all the 20th-century conductor/composers (with the possible exception of the industrious Read more Felix Weingartner), Sir Eugene Goossens (1893–1962) produced one of the most substantial and inspired body of works. From his beginnings as a member of a distinguished and cosmopolitan family of Belgian musicians to his celebrated leadership of the Cincinnati and Sydney Symphonies, Goossens the composer demonstrates a level of self-assurance and authority that is phenomenal. All of his output has a fluidity and forthrightness that draws the listener in immediately with its striking ideas and dazzling orchestration, qualities that are fully resplendent in the two major late scores presented here.

The 1942 piano concerto—written for Jose Iturbi, significantly titled Phantasy , and receiving its premiere recording—is a dense and volatile tableau in four closely linked sections played continuously. The term “phantasy” (derived no doubt from the famous Cobbett chamber-music prizes awarded in the early 1900s) is of central importance to the type of musical syntax Goossens excelled in. “Motto” themes, both easily graspable and unusually malleable, form the backbone of his idiom, as they are twisted and transmogrified in an ecstatic Szymanowski-like display of endlessly exfoliating and highly chromaticized metamorphoses. A glance at the constantly alternating tempo markings bears this out: Allegro—Poco più tranquillo—Poco allargando—Subito a tempo—Poco meno mosso—Poco animando—Più moto. And, of course, this makes for a highly charged, almost kinesthetic arc of dramatic reversals and reconciliations.

Although the slightly earlier First Symphony of 1938–1940 is in four distinct movements lasting almost 40 massive minutes, it is characterized by the same kinetic and incandescent qualities as the concerto. The Symphony’s two most prominent motto themes are threaded throughout the whole rich tapestry of the score. But, unlike the glittering and gamboling concerto, the symphony has a much darker and more ominous undertone, probably due to the gathering war clouds attending its creation. In Goossens’s own words, however, the tenor of the music has a universal compass: it “has no message, neither is there any literary or other significance to it . . . it deals with the old abstractions, or what my master Stanford rather portentously used to refer to as The Eternal Verities.”

This spectacular Chandos release is the third recording of the Symphony and Hickox (in his sadly final appearance in the recording studio) easily matches—and, technically speaking, even surpasses—its two earlier disc incarnations: a vinyl-only release on the Unicorn-Kanchana label by the Adelaide Symphony under the brilliant David Meacham and an equally superlative rendering by the late great Vernon Handley on an Australian Broadcasting Company three-CD set devoted to Goossens. And we are fully aware from past recordings of pianist Howard Shelley’s prowess in unearthing and projecting the value inherent in long-neglected concertos. In short, this release is a surefire candidate for this year’s Want List. Grab it!

FANFARE: Paul A. Snook
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Works on This Recording

Phantasy Concerto for Piano, Op. 60 by Sir Eugene Goossens
Performer:  Howard Shelley (Piano)
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962 
Symphony no 1, Op. 58 by Sir Eugene Goossens
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938-1940 

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