GOOSSENS: Kaleidoscope, Op. 18. Tam O'Shanter, Op. 17a. Three
Greek Dancers, Op. 44. Concert Piece, Op. 66. Four Conceits, Op. 20.Variations
Rousselle." Two Nature Poems, Op. 25.
BARTÓK: Kossuth. Concerto for Orchestra. Roumanian Folk
SARRIAHO: La Passion de Simone
British conductor/composer Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) had quite a distinguished career, always respected until 1958 when his interest in the occult and in particular with Rosaleen Norton resulted in a scandal resulting in Goossens was being arrested; you can find detailed of this unfortunate incident on Wikipedia. Until that time, the conductor was well-known as conductor of the Sydney Symphony—prior to that he led the Rochester Philharmonic (1923-1931) and the Cincinnati Symphony (1931-1946). Goossens made many recordings earlier in his career, and after the scandal conducted a fine series of recordings with the London Symphony for Everest ., These included Rite of Spring; he had led the British premiere in 1921 with the composer present. Goossens had a long association with Sir Thomas Beecham, having played violin in one of the conductor's early orchestras and working as his assistant in opera productions. Beecham requested an up-dated version of Handel's Messiah, Goossens was happy to oblige—and Beecham was delighted. In 1959 Beecham made his famous RCA recording that angered purists and delighted most others, including me. It currently is available at super-budget price from ARKIVMUSIC. Many of Goossens' recordings as a conductor are currently available; this site mentioned a Chandos SACD of his Symphony No. 1 and Phantasy Concerto conducted by Richard Hickox (REVIEW) .Goossens wrote primarily in smaller forms and much of his chamber/solo instrument music is available on CD. Now we have this new disk of lighter works, all fluff, well-written, imaginatively orchestrated, but not of lasting interest. The splendid performances romp through the music, and Chandos' engineering could not be bettered.
In 1902 a very young Bartók attended the Budapest premiere of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra and also heard Ein Heldenleben. The latter fascinated himparticularly and he decided to write an autobiographical work about the Hungarian politician Lajos Kossuth, hero of the Hungarian revolution of 1848. It began as a piano work and later was orchestrated. Bartók wrote a detailed program for the ten connected sections including a mocking satire on the imperial Austrian national anthem, This 22-minute work never was considered major Bartók; currently there are only three other recordings of it. It is easy to understand why. In spite of young Bartók's enthusiasm for the concept, there is little here that captures the imagination; Kossuth surely is eons removed from Heldenleben. This new disk also contains another early works of Bartók, the Roumanian Dances, and features his greatest work, the Concerto for Orchestra. There are about 100 recordings currently available of this; just about every conductor you can think of it has made one, and most are preferable to this CPO issue primarily being audio. The Vienna Radio Symphony was founded in 1962 and has made many recordings of wide-ranging repertory: from Bernstein, Glass, and many avant-guarde composers to standard repertory. The young conductor Cornelius Meister has been principal conductor since 2010. He leads fine performances, but t audio is disappointing. Recorded during three sessions in 2010 and 2011 in the broadcast studio in Vienna, there is little richness to orchestral sound, presense, a lack of clarity in low strings and limited use of rear channels. A dubious plus is Eckhardt van den Hoogan's CD notes are less obtuse than usual.
Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) is Finland's leading composer. Several years ago, this site mentioned aPent atone release of her opera L' amour de Loin (REVIEW). Now we have another major work, La Passion de Simon, an oratorio with a French libretto by Amin Maalouf. The work was commissioned by the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, the Barbican Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Peter Sellers did a stage production which had its premiere in 2006 in Vienna. Described as "a musical journey in 15 stations," it is about the life and writings of Simon Weil (1909-1943), French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist. She devoted her life to human suffering (her own as well), and did what she could to identify with humanity, writing profusely about her experiences, some of which are found in La Passion de Simon. The composer states that work is based on the Passion play tradition, with 15 stations of the cross descriptive of an episode in Weill's tragic life. The role of Simone was written for Dawn Upshaw, but the soprano's treatment for breast cancer kept her from participating in the 2006 premiere, although she is heard in this recording made in Helsinki's Music Center last October. The intricately scored music is a maze of shimmering sounds utilizing some electronic instruments, rather like Debussy or Scriabin on gentle steroids. The soprano represents Simone's imaginary sister telling of the gloomy episodes of her life, and there is a brief part for a narrator. The sound pictures are subtle and extraordinary, and all of this has been captured in rich, resonant sound that places the listener right in the center of a remarkable musical event. A complete libretto in French and English is included. A unique release.
R.E.B. (April 2013)