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Recordings to celebrate the world of the oboe


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Rare Goossens CD cover
More Goossens: The French Accent CD cover Other 'historical' CDs: The Oboe 1903-1953 CD cover English Accents CD cover

(Click underlined movements to hear MP3 format sound clips.)

photo of Goossens as a young man Fauré: Pièce (vocalise 1914), with Clarence Raybould (piano)

Marcello: Concerto in C minor, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind
Andante - Adagio - Presto

Pierné: Aubade, with Gerald Moore (piano)

Scarlatti, arr Bryan: Concerto No 1 in G, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Walter Susskind
Canzonetta - Polonaise - Minuet - Aria - Tarantella

Bax: Quintet for oboe and strings, with the International Quartet (A Mangeot, B Pecker, F Howerd, H Withers)
Tempo molto moderato - Lento espressive - Allegro giocoso

Barthe: Passacaille, with the London Wind Quintette (R Murchie, L Goossens, H Draper, W James, AL Brain)

Colin: Concertino for oboe and orchestra

Saint-Saëns: The Swan, with Clarence Raybould (piano)

Thomé: Simple Aveu, with Clarence Raybould (piano)

Fiocco, arr. Bent & O'Neill: Arioso, with Gerald Moore (piano)

Trad, arr. Kreisler: Londonderry Air, with Clarence Raybould (piano)

Van Phillips: Nicolette, with the Van Phillips All-Star Orchestra

The CD booklet contains an essay (in English, French and German) about Goossens and his art by Melvin Harris which has recieved much praise - "Melvin Harris' excellently supportive booklet note" (Classical Music Web); "Melvin Harris, author of the excellent insert note" (Gramophone). There are photographs from Goossens' early and middle life, including some not seen before.

Of Léon Goossens it was once said: "There is perhaps only one other musician who can so etherialise his instrument. One thinks of Casals and his cello."

But it was not always so. In his early days Léon Goossens was dissatisfied with the models he was expected to emulate. His first teacher was Charles Reynolds, the renowned lead oboist of the Hallé Orchestra. Great though he was at teaching breath control and practice passages, his tone and phrasing held no magic for his young pupil. Etherealisation was absent from a tone that was broad, without vibrato and, as Léon put it, "bullish". Indeed, to mute his instrument, Reynolds used to hang a robust pocket handkerchief over his music stand and project into it!

Later studies at London's Royal College of Music brought no real inspiration, for the oboe professor there was William Malsch, a kindly man, but an unlovely player. He was dropped from the Queen's Hall Orchestra since his tone set Sir Henry Wood's teeth on edge. An American critic agreed, when he wrote "His tone bites like sulphuric acid".

The great breakthrough came when Léon heard the Belgian oboist Henri De Busscher play at the Queen's Hall. De Busscher's playing was delicate and expressive, with a marvellous singing quality about it. His long, sensitive phrases were a marvel. His cameo-like tone was endowed with a warm vibrato. This was the inspiration that Léon had yearned for. Night after night he listened out for De Busscher's solos, then went back to his room to emulate and aim for the same subtle and singing control over his oboe. He was an eager and gifted pupil, so much so that when De Busscher left for New York, Henry Wood chose the 16-year-old Goossens to take his place. copyright Melvin Harris, 2002

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Press Comment
"Historic recording of Léon Goossens, a great oboist caught in his prime" Headline over a feature article by John Warrack in Gramophone

"A reissue of the 1927 Bax quintet is the centrepiece of this enterprising disc ... but one reminder of the British oboist's wonderfully eloquent gifts." Anthony Holden, Observer

"A collection of early recordings by Léon Goossens ... includes numerous examples of his Kreisler-like way with lighter music, and a wonderfully rhapsodic 1927 account of the Bax Quintet." Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine

"Woodwind specialists as well as Baxians will want to snap up this lovingly compiled and presented disc." Rob Barnett, Classical Music Web. For the complete review on the Classical Music Web site, click here.

"This is a fine after-dinner wine of a recording, worth listening to at leisure, without interruption, so as to marvel over the extraordinary facility and exquisite taste of one of the finest instrumentalists of any age." Barry Brenesal, Fanfare (USA)

Here are some excerpts from an interview Goossens gave in 1977 with Melvin Harris (writer of the CD programme notes), in which he talks about his early life and some of the works on the CD:

  • On music and school life.
  • Oboe lessons, and practising at home.
  • On first getting recognition from Thomas Beecham.
  • Colin's Concertino and the Queen's Hall Orchestra.
  • Having pieces written for him - the Bax and Bliss Quintets.

photo of Léon Goossens Léon Goossens was born in Liverpool in 1897, the son of violinist and opera conductor Eugène Goossens, and brother of conductor and composer also called Eugène. After a preliminary study of the piano he began learning the oboe when he was eight, and at the age of ten made some professional appearances. He then studied at the Royal College of Music (1911-14) and became principal oboe of the Queen's Hall Orchestra at the age of 17. After war service, during which he was wounded, he returned to the Queen's Hall Orchestra, transferring to Covent Garden in 1924, where he sometimes took charge of orchestral rehearsals when Beecham was late in arriving. He also played in the Royal Philharmonic Society's orchestra and, on its foundation in 1932, the LPO. He had meanwhile undertaken many solo engagements, and been acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic as the finest oboist of his day. Recognition of his exceptional gifts encouraged almost every notable English composer to write for him: these included Bax, Bliss, Britten, Elgar (one uncompleted movement of an unfinished suite), Vaughan Williams and many others. A serious car accident in 1962 severely damaged his teeth and lips, but with great courage and persistence he developed a new technique, and by 1966 had resumed his career with virtually undiminished powers.

Goossens' principal contribution to the oboe has been to refine and sweeten its tone to reveal thereby a new flexibility and expressiveness; controlled by a brilliant technique and at the service of a persuasive and individual artistry, this has given the oboe a new standing as a solo instrument. He died in 1988. Notes after John Warrack

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