Reviews

GMCD 7120 – English Romanticism – Music by Ferguson, Goosens & Ireland

Oliver Lewis – Violin, Jeremy Filsell – Piano

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British Music Society News

(Together with GMCD 7124)
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 form 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 war 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 7124)

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!
Review by Gramophone – August 1996

The really good news here comprises the CD début of Eugene Goossens’s First Violin Sonata. Completed in 1918 when the composer was 25, it proves a most compelling piece, full of strong ideas and evincing a total technical mastery of the medium. Both outer movements have a striking fluency and sweep about them, while Goossens’s tangy harmonic sense achieves its most potent expression in the touching central Molto adagio, whose elegiac, almost “bluesy” outer portions strikingly pre-echo Constant Lambert in similar vein. Oliver Lewis and Jeremy Filsell give a vibrant, excitingly assured account, full of swagger and panache.

The performance of John Ireland’s wonderful Second Sonata of 1917 (a work whose hugely acclaimed première catapulted the composer to national prominence virtually overnight) contrasts strongly with the recent Chandos account from Lydia Mordkovitch and Ian Brown. Whereas the latter pair’s spacious reading consistently brings out the epic tragedy of Ireland’s wartime inspiration, Lewis and Filsell opt for an altogether more thrusting, youthfully impetuous approach (their total timing of 22′ 23″ knocks more than six minutes off that of their Chandos rivals). The results are certainly refreshing, if at times less searching than one would ideally wish (for example, the elegiac undertones of the first movement’s development section go for very little here).

I have few, if any grumbles, however, about these newcomer’s compelling advocacy of another glorious Second Sonata, that of Howard Ferguson. This finely sculpted, impassioned creating has fared happily on disc, with memorable readings from Levon Chilingirian and Lydia Mordkovitch (both featuring Clifford Benson as the exemplary accompanist). The swagger and sense of purpose displayed by Lewis and Filsell are commendable indeed, though, once again, there is perhaps occasionally a suspicion of skating over the surface (there is more to the darkly intense central Adagio than they choose to find).

A useful triptych all the same. The sound is a touch diffuse and clangorous, but not too distractingly so.