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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4; Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 "Classical"; Scriabin: Reverie / Schippers, Goossens

Tchaikovsky / Scriabin / Pao / Schippers
Release Date: 08/14/2012 
Label:  First Hand Records   Catalog #: 16   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich TchaikovskySergei ProkofievAlexander Scriabin
Conductor:  Thomas SchippersSir Eugene Goossens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia OrchestraPro Arte Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4. 1 SCRIABIN Réverie. 2 PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 1, “Classical” 3 1 Thomas Schippers, cond; 2,3 Eugene Goossens, cond; 1,2 Philharmonia O; 3 Read more class="ARIAL12">Pro Arte O FHR 16 (64:24)

Searching for a common thread linking the selections on this disc, I come up with the following: all are by Russian composers; all the recordings date from the 1950s and are claimed to be receiving their first release on CD (first stereo release in any form for the Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev items); and both the conductors involved at one time headed the Cincinnati Symphony.

Thomas Schippers (1930-1977) was a prominent American conductor whose career was cut short by lung cancer. Although he led the Cincinnati Symphony from 1970 until his death and made some recordings with that orchestra, he is remembered mostly as an opera conductor. He would have been in his 80s today had he survived and perhaps one of the grand old men of the podium, along with such figures as Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, and Christoph von Dohnányi. This 1957 recording of the Tchaikovsky Fourth by EMI’s Columbia label benefits from excellent playing by the Philharmonia Orchestra, often with especially clear and precise articulation that must owe something to the conductor’s direction. The clear, open, smooth, and well-balanced sound of the recording in this reissue is also a plus. In the first movement, the opening fanfares are broadly paced, conveying an epic grandeur, but the exposition loses momentum, especially in the second subject, which borders on the lethargic. On the other hand, the climax of the development is all the more exciting for being so clearly articulated. Richard Whitehouse, in his notes for this reissue, acknowledges that the performance has “little in the way of overt dynamism or histrionic fervor,” finding it “closer in spirit to the contemporaneous account by Kurt Sanderling and the Leningrad Philharmonic.” Although the two performances are similar in overall timings (Sanderling’s tends to be a bit shorter), in the first movement Sanderling is more successful in sustaining momentum, continuity, and a consistent pulse. Fortunately, the remaining movements of the Schippers performance are more consistently successful. Tempos are on the stately side, but there is no lack of momentum, and the precise articulation and fine balancing of instrumental lines are once again impressive. Notwithstanding my reservations about parts of the first movement, this is an eloquent performance, free from bombast and successful in conveying the symphonic substance of Tchaikovsky’s writing.

Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), British-born but of Belgian ancestry, led the Cincinnati Symphony from 1931 to 1947, following which he transferred his activity to Australia and headed the Sydney Symphony for a decade. His Australian career was brought to a disastrous conclusion in 1956, by a scandal involving adultery, witchcraft, and “occult” materials deemed by the Australian police to be pornographic. Returning to England, he did not secure another position in his remaining years, but continued to make recordings, including this one of the Prokofiev “Classical” Symphony, taped in 1958 for the Pye label. The performance is excellent, crisp and high-spirited, with more snap and energy than the relatively beefy accounts of Valery Gergiev (Philips), Charles Dutoit (Decca), and Yury Temirkanov (RCA). Goossens’s tempo choices are well judged, and he supplies just the right amount of weight, i.e., not that much. The Pro Arte Orchestra (not a pseudonym but an actual ensemble, in existence from 1953 to 1970) plays well, if not quite with the Philharmonia’s precision and refinement. The recorded sound shares the clarity and detail of EMI’s effort for Schippers but lacks its smoothness.

Scriabin’s Réverie (1898), although less than six minutes in duration, is an appealing, evocative piece, suggestive of the mature Scriabin in style. Generally wistful, yearning, languorous, and mysterious in tone, it rises at one point to an almost desperate pleading. I was not previously familiar with it and do not have any other recordings, but Goossens’s reading with the Philharmonia seems unimpeachable. The 1956 mono sound by EMI’s HMV label yields much in vividness and clarity to the other two items on this disc but is certainly more than listenable.

This well-produced release is recommended to collectors interested in the history of conducting as well as for its worthwhile performances. Schippers was a talented maestro whom fatal illness denied the opportunity to reach his full potential. Goossens is a largely forgotten figure who is probably deserving of greater attention.

FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in F minor, Op. 36 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Thomas Schippers
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1878; Russia 
Symphony no 1 in D major, Op. 25 "Classical" by Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor:  Sir Eugene Goossens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pro Arte Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; Russia 
Rêverie, Op. 24 by Alexander Scriabin
Conductor:  Sir Eugene Goossens
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898; Russia 

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