Goossens: Symphony No. 1; Phantasy Concerto

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COMPOSERS: Goossens
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Phantasy Concerto
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano); Melbourne SO/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5068

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Here we go again: another composer from English music’s 20th-century renaissance, with superlative fluency and technical command, all of it deployed in such a bemusingly erratic way. One of a part-Belgian dynasty that included siblings Leon (oboist) and Marie and Sidonie (harpists), and long resident in America and Australia, Eugene Goossens was a leading conductor of his generation. His orchestral mastery shines through both these works, with torrents of mildly modernist invention to match – with very different creative results.

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The Symphony finds room for a fine range of dramatic and introspective moods, culminating in an extended finale that has the feeling of a major statement. The Phantasy Concerto, however, hyperactively chases its own tail throughout four linked but rather similar movements. Meanwhile the music obsesses so relentlessly with its opening four-note ‘motto’ fanfare that you find yourself longing for the composer to at least try inverting the darned thing. The performances make a feisty and persuasive case for both works, with Howard Shelley savouring the incisive brilliance of the Concerto’s solo part. And in his last recording before his death last year, Richard Hickox extracts playing of serious energy from this fine Australian orchestra. Marvellously clear and comfortable SACD recorded sound, too. Malcolm Hayes