Déjà Review: this review was first published in October 2004 and the recording is still available.

Eugene Goossens (1893-1962)
Four Sketches, for Flute (or Violin), Violin and Piano Op. 5 (1913)
Three Pictures for Flute and Piano Op. 55 (1935)
Five Impressions of a Holiday Op. 7 (1914)
Suite, for Flute (or Violin), Violin and Harp (or Piano) Op. 6 (1914) [10:32]
Pastorale et Arlequinade, for Flute (or Violin), Oboe (or Violin), and Piano Op. 41 (1924)
Susan Milan (flute), London Chamber Music Group
rec. 2003, St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London, UK
Chandos CHAN10259 [68]

Goossens did not restrict his adventures to the fields, byres and lanes of the English countryside. In that sense he was by no means a typical British composer – if there is such a thing. His métier had a distinct Continental accent: French (never Teutonic), Russian, impressionistic. His choice of works for concerts also reflected these inclinations mixing Ireland, Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninov. His Phantasy Concertos, one each for violin and piano, and richly deserving of a recording premiere, are opulently convoluted and Gallic. His operas Don Juan and Judith similarly. His string quartets have the same agreeable density and profusion of line. If anything his great choral work The Apocalypse bows towards Mussorgskian models. The two symphonies (superbly recorded by Vernon Handley on ABC Classics) are rich with incident and again have a Baxian-Russian accent. There are two each string quartets (another natural for a CD project) and violin sonatas (on two Guild CDs) and these do have some English pastoral flavour but leavened with Gallic impressionistic treatment.

This delightful and generous anthology leans strongly although not exclusively on his French sympathies. Models may well have been Debussy’s Danses Sacrés et Danses Profanes as well as Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro. Among English composers it is little surprise that his publisher of choice was Chesters. The wonder is that he attended the RCM. He would have found more congenial spirits at the Royal Academy of Music alongside Bax, Holbrooke, McEwen and the rest. The Four Sketches and the Suite are for same ensemble (the piano could have been substituted for the harp in the gorgeously sensuous Op. 6 Suite. Together with the Five Impressions they occupy adjacent opus numbers and centre on the years 1913-1914 – before an end to innocence and the death on the Western Front of Goossens’ brother, the horn-player Adolph.

The Sketches include a Serenade that is very lively and good-humoured and chucklingly Hispanic (tr. 2 – a truly delightful movement for sampling). The Romance is gorgeously trilled and sung with a foot in both English and French camps. The Humoresque has the three players cackling like cheery witches. Strangely enough it is Chabrier whose name most often came to mind; maybe Chabrier with a smattering of Cyril Scott for the exotic and Bliss for the fantastic.

The Five Impressions of a Holiday show strong sympathies with Debussy. The music is dreamy, suggestive and misty although The Water Wheel throws aside languor with some wildly cart-wheeling figures for the piano and the flute capering joyously as it also does in At the FairThe Village Church mixes a memorable tune with the chiming magic of Ravel’s Mother Goose.

From Bredon in the Cotswolds, the second of the Three Pictures gives us Grainger filtered through Ravel – extremely attractive. Originally it had been scored for flute, strings and percussion. From a Belfry of Bruges is quite chilly at times and is somehow ‘anchored’ by a deeply tolling bell. Frank Bridge would surely have admired this. I suspect that Bridge would also have warmed to the shivering From a Balcony in Montparnasse. The curvaceously capricious flute might have been expected to add some warmth but instead the whole picture is one of November streets and just at the corner of our field of vision some wicked presence stepped from the pages of an M.R. James short story.

Sitting chronologically between the trio of works from just before the Great War and the Three Pictures (a memento of his triumphant years with the Cincinnati Orchestra) comes the 1924 Pastorale and Arlequinade. The Pastorale is warmly allusive with a generously fleshy-toned flute singing and musing in the golden sun. After the baskingly reflective Pastorale, the Arlequinade takes the listener back to the mood of the Humoresque from Op. 5. Bax’s playful side is echoed in these works: as in his Gopak, finale of the Oboe QuintetOverture to a Picaresque Comedy and Mediterranean. We should recall that Goossens was a doughty Bax interpreter witness his recordings of Tintagel (astoundingly fleet of foot – an acoustic reissued by Symposium), the Second Symphony (BBC studio recording in the late 1950s) and Mediterranean.

Documentation is as good as ever from this source. This time the author is Edward Blakeman – not a name I have encountered before but I hope we will hear from him again.

Artistically and technically this anthology is consummately successful. Goossens with a marked French accent and with currents flowing in from the English countryside and the streets of Madrid and the Russian steppes. This is a very welcome addition to the Goossens catalogue.

Rob Barnett

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