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Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) was best known in his lifetime as a conductor, first in London, then Cincinnati and Sydney. However, having studied with Stanford at the RCM, his composing was never abandoned. His Second Symphony was written in the US during WWII and has the angularity of works from that time that tried to reflect the dislocation of war. Although he was safe in America, his extraordinary musical family, including harpist sister Sidonie in the BBC Symphony Orchestra which premiered it in 1946, were not; and as a British Belgian the war was keenly felt. His horn playing brother had been killed in the First.

The Symphony shows Goossens as more daring than most of his British contemporaries, adopting a style close to Hindemith and Frank Martin. While it has harmonic edge it lacks the rhythmic energy of Bartók or the Russian school, which is probably what has held his reputation back. Davis and the Melbourne SO give it an efficient reading without ever quite persuading me to feel more than proper respect.

The Phantasy Violin Concerto was composed shortly afterwards for Heifitz, who rejected it. This must have been a blow since it is a substantial half hour, five movement work and more engaging than the symphony. Eventually it was heard at the Proms in 1960 but not afterwards. It is contemplative rather than virtuosic in character and the Phantasy (a title referring back to Stanford and Bridge) is never an entirely happy or straightforward one. That said, the concerto grows in stature the more one listens. It could not ask for a better champion than Tasmin Little – languid, elegant and brittle by turn – so it is sad that her imminent retirement will not let her bring it back to the concert hall. I hope someone else as good has the incentive to pick it up.

Simon Mundy Read the full review on Agora Classica


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