Reviews

GMCD 7124 – English Romanticism II – Music by Elgar & Goossens

Oliver Lewis – Violin, Jeremy Filsell – Piano

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Strad Magazine – April 1997 Issue

Smaller record companies do a remarkable service in bringing the music lover hitherto rarely heard works. This CD features music by the relatively unknown English composer Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) plus one of Elgar’s less famous pieces.

Though the disc is labelled English Romanticism the Elgar Sonata has a positively Brahmsian feel. The performers, both consummate musicians, treat it like a large-scale work and launch into opening Allegro with drive and vigour. The performance has great volatility and is rich in bravura, sustained into the concluding Allegro non troppo. The second movement Romance, marked Andante, has a pseudo-Spanish rhythmic pulse that the pianist underlines elegantly while the graceful shaping of the phrases and controlled energy give the performance a warm, sunny charm.

Of the shorter Goossens works, the Lyric Poem receives and expansive reading, while the Romance, a work written for Heifetz, the violin sounds as if it is being played in a narrow corridor. The musicians bring character and finesse to the Goossens Sonata. Their playing of the extended opening movement is at times overflowing with passion and the interplay between them is instinctively spontaneous. The exquisite writing for the violin is given full expression by Lewis and the rich sound of his Enrico Ceruti (1873) instrument is generally well captured, although the engineers seem to have given the piano a slight edge at times.

On hearing this disc one wonders why the two sonatas are performed so infrequently.
Sorab Modi


American Record Guide

I have no idea why Edward Elgar’s 1918 Violin Sonata has never held a significant place in the violin literature. It seems to have been recorded only by a few English violinists-Hugh Bean, Nigel Kennedy, Yehudi Menuhin. It was popular in the 1930s and again in the 1950s, was recorded a few times in the 1980s, and popped up on a few university faculty and doctoral recitals.

Elgar’s Sonata is very Brahmsian, with rhapsodic sequences followed by Elgar’s beautiful melodic material. Everything is so well organised and clearly presented at the first hearing the piece sounds familiar. It employs a deep, rich use of the violin’s lower register and pizzicato in a quirky dialogue that despite its long phrase length fits easily in the envelope of a 19th Century salon romance. An occasional nod to France and a few smoky dissonance’s make the sonata sound as if it were written about 20 years before its time.

Eugène Goossens (1893-1962) was best known as the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony. Very few of his works have been recorded, but in his lifetime he was a highly respected composer. His Lyric Poem from 1920 sounds like a cross between Ives and early Schoenbert with a bit of Debussy and Franck added as emulsifiers. The Romance, a piece written for Jascha Heifetz, uses the same palette as the Lyric Poem. Lewis plays this with a sort of diffused, distant sound letting the piano dominate, and plays the decadent-sounding Old Chinese Folk Song in a way that I’m sure Debussy would have liked it.

Though Paul Kochanski commissioned the Violin Sonata, Jascha Heifetz gave the work its first American performance in 1934. The complicated writing of this piece makes it difficult to listen to at first, but gradually Goossens’s inventiveness and interesting application of harmony and texture – especially in II – bring its strong compositional qualities into focus. The piece has some very exciting piano writing and some quiet sustained violin passages of extreme intensity. Some of the fast and bright material sounds a bit English (with a French accent), but otherwise it would be difficult to place any nationality on this music.

This is a very worthwhile recording.


British Music Society News

(Together with GMCD 7120)
These two attractively-packaged CDs offer Goossens’ complete music for violin and piano. I am not at all sure that mixing composers in recitals of this type is wise. Had all the Goossens works been on a single CD it might well have commanded more attention. As it is there is no denying the attractive performances and fine quality of the recordings. In any event these recitals are becoming something of a trend, also apparent from the United Recordings CDs featuring Susan Stanzeleit in sonatas by Bantock, Dunhill, Ireland, Rawsthorne, VW and Fricker. The Ferguson and Ireland performances here compare very favourably with recent CDs. The hothouse exotic atmosphere of the Ferguson sonata is well brought out, sounding decidedly Spanish at times and at others uncannily like Rózsa. The Ireland sonata, massively popular when premiered, still conveys a real yearning sweetness. The Elgar Sonata is so vivaciously done that an orchestral arrangement is occasionally suggested. Heresy, I know, but I felt that this performance was straining at the bounds of the duo medium.

As for the Goossens works, they are all first CD recordings and they were not exactly thick on the ground in the era of the LP. The first Sonata was a product of the last year of the Great War and catches Goossens in more directly romantic vein than the music of the ’30s and ’40s. The second movement is tranced and entrancing inspiration, tender and with a hint of John Ireland about it. Its striking theme returns in the final movement over a swirling piano accompaniment. Carole Rosen noted that this work’s “extreme sensuality of sound expressed in constantly changing chromaticism” was inspired by Goossens’ interest in witchcraft and necromancy. Beautiful music, only marginally let down by a final few bars which strike an unconvincing false note. It is incomprehensible that this sonata has not had at least as much attention as the John Ireland second Sonata. I have a tape of an American performance by the Michaelian and Nagaspian duo. The Molto Adagio was recorded by the dedicatee André Mangeot and the composer on 78 NGS56.

Goossens’ second sonata dates from 1930 and begins in a Baxian shimmering haze. Already the increasing complexity and elaboration of his still tuneful music is felt. The work is intensely lyrical but there is a density of detail which clears only occasionally. The aspiring tune of the first movement reaches high but turns away as if from the brightness of the sun. I was reminded from time to time of Szymanowski (the Sonata is dedicated to Paul Kochanski) and Bax. The long sinuous lines of the melodies show the influence of Cyril Scott (whose Lotus Land he arranged as a song for voice and piano) and may have left their mark on Walton’s Violin Concerto (1939), a work of which Goossens made the very first recording with Heifetz at Cincinnati. The sonata has previously been recorded on an ABC LP by Vincent Edwards and Allan Jenkins. The shorter works are of great interest including the Romance from another work of the later 1930s, the opera Don Juan de Mañera(1930-35), also affected by the occult element.

Fine notes by Robert Matthew-Walker but I wish that precise dates for premiers had been given. Warm thanks are due to Guild and the artists who project everything with great spirit. Please continue the series concentrating on recording premieres – how about all three Holbrooke violin sonatas, Bax Sonata No.3 and the Dunhill First Sonata
Robert Barnett


Classic CD – August 1996

(Together with GMCD 7120)
Here are two records which give as good an introduction as any to English chamber music of the interwar years; they are a most welcome addition to Guild’s small but important specialist catalogue. On the first disc, Howard Ferguson’s Sonata has a dark, passionate undertone, even in its faster movements. Goossens’ First Sonata (in its first modern recording) is almost contemporary with Ireland’s fine Second Sonata, perhaps the best-known of the three on Volume 1. The music is firmly diatonic – good tunes, rich harmonies, drama and lyricism – and with a sense of the cool freshness of an English spring morning. Try the last movement of the Ireland sonata for unbridled confidence and verve.

Made in the Arts Centre of the London Oratory School in Fulham, Volume 1 suffers a little (particularly in the Ferguson) from a restricted, boxed-in piano sound. The violin (a 1708 Guarnerius) has a rich sound which is well-projected, in spite of a recorded balance which favours the piano in forte passages.

The second record features an Italian violin of 1873, and is altogether more convincing. Though the competition is keen, the Elgar Sonata can rarely have received a more spirited, euphonious reading, and the parish church at Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, has an open and resonant acoustic which encourages a lively performance. Once again, the Goossens works receive their first commercial recording, and show this neglected composer as a fine melodist. The Second Sonata is technically demanding, but try the Old Chinese Folk Song – 1:17 of pure delight!