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Goossens: Symphony No. 2; Phantasy Concerto

Tasmin Little (violin); Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis (Chandos)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Symphony No. 2; Phantasy Concerto
Tasmin Little (violin); Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA 5193 (hybrid CD/SACD)   68:21 mins

In 1993 the veteran harpist Sidonie Goossens wrote to Simon Rattle to enquire if he was going to honour the centenary of her distinguished brother Eugene by performing some of his music. Rattle replied that he only knew of Goossens as a conductor, and never realised he also composed. Thanks especially to Chandos’s two earlier recordings, there’s less chance of such ignorance today, though Goossens the composer – eclectic, derivative, a post-Romantic with dissonant knobs on – remains difficult to categorise and, at times, to enjoy.

Written for Jascha Heifetz in the mid 1940s, the Phantasy Concerto for violin and orchestra constricts the soloist so much with tortuous melodic lines and over-busy instrumental gestures that you can understand why this star showman and virtuoso declined to give it a performance. Tasmin Little fiddles through the concerto with plenty of fire, but it’s not enough to save the piece from being fidgety, garrulous, and unnecessarily hard work.

On the other hand, though needless complexities cloud its path too, the forceful and personal Symphony No. 2, a near contemporary, punches through to victory over its 40 minutes, driven by the conflicted feelings of an English expatriate in America observing his homeland’s war torments from afar. In terms of interpretation, Andrew Davis’s account doesn’t significantly advance beyond Vernon Handley’s 1993 recording on ABC Classics. The difference lies in the Melbourne orchestra’s extra finesse and the opulent sound. Goossens revels in quick-changing, imaginative orchestral textures, succulently displayed in Chandos’s typically lustrous and wide-ranging recording.

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Geoff Brown