Eu­gene Goossens: Or­ches­tral Works, vol­ume 2 Melbourne Sym­phony Orches­tra Chandos ★★★★✩

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Vin­cent Plush

SINCE tak­ing the reins of the Melbourne Sym­phony Orches­tra ear­lier this year, An­drew Davis has been busy. In par­tic­u­lar, he seems to have taken on sev­eral projects left in­com­plete by the un­timely death of Richard Hickox in Novem­ber 2008. Two of th­ese have be­come re­cent re­leases on Chandos. In 1996 Chandos launched its Grainger Edi­tion, in­tend­ing to record the en­tire Grainger cat­a­logue. Fif­teen years later, Chandos re­leased a 19-CD box set, 24 hours of mu­sic, to com­mem­o­rate the half­cen­tury since Grainger’s death in 1961. De­pleted of funds and per­haps en­ergy, the Chandos pro­ject fal­tered, with sig­nif­i­cant gaps still to fill. In late Au­gust last year, Davis led the MSO in a mostly Grainger con­cert in the newly re­fur­bished Hamer Hall. Sev­eral of those works were rar­i­ties for cho­rus and orches­tra and, to th­ese ears, sounded de­cid­edly thin. Now, Chandos has re­leased a new record­ing con­tain­ing th­ese and oth­ers recorded about the same time in Hamer Hall, all un­der the watch­ful ear of Barry Peter Ould, the most ar­dent Grain­gerite on the planet. Th­ese new record­ings have a vi­tal­ity, en­ergy and fun miss­ing in the other per­for­mances. Where Hickox’s Grainger struts the opera stage and in­tones glo­ri­ous melodies, Davis’s strides along with gusto, ac­com­pa­nied by mil­i­tary bands and cheer­ing by­standers. The MSO and its won­der­ful cho­rus pro­duce a splen­did noise, high­lighted by Grainger’s per­cus­sion in­stru­ments from the Grainger Mu­seum. Grainger’s dis­ci­ples will chuckle at the mil­i­tary bar­racks ac­cents in Danny Deever, sing along in word­less syl­la­bles in the gar­gan­tuan March­ing Song of Democ­racy and may even shed a tear in the con­clud­ing Thanks­giv­ing Song, one of the seven first record­ings on this gen­er­ous CD of 10 pieces. Davis is equally adept in draw­ing out the Gal­lic fin­ery in Chandos’s sec­ond vol­ume of or­ches­tral mu­sic of Eu­gene Goossens. All 23 tracks are short, be­s­peak­ing the sched­ule of the busy cos­mopoli­tan con­duc­tor-com­poser. But each re­veals or­ches­tra­tion on in­ti­mate terms with Ravel-Stravin­sky, and later Schoen­berg-Wal­ton. Davis and his MSO play­ers rel­ish ev­ery care­fully crafted mo­ment. The solo winds and harps, in par­tic­u­lar, shine in record­ings that are clean and clear, pi­quant and charm­ing. How sad that Goossens and Bernard Heinze failed to per­suade Grainger to take up the di­rec­tor­ship of the El­der Con­ser­va­to­rium in Ade­laide in 1948; al­most as sad as it is to see a Bri­tish com­pany hav­ing to take up Aus­tralia’s mu­si­cal her­itage. Still, we should be grate­ful to Chandos that th­ese record­ings now grace our col­lec­tions, and to Davis and the MSO for such ster­ling per­for­mances. They can only raise the cur­rency of th­ese two com­posers on the national and in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

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