A Reluctant Maestro Conducts Bruckner’s Eighth 

For years Reginald Goodall coached singers in his room at the Royal Opera House, having been openly derided by the music director, Georg Solti, as no longer being capable of live conducting. Then he emerged in 1968 to conduct a widely praised new English language production of Wagner’s The Mastersingers at Sadler’s Wells. I was intrigued by this turn of events, and was duly bowled over when I experienced the production. 

BBCL 4086-2 (2CD set). First ever commercial issue.
BBCL 4086-2 (2CD set). First ever commercial issue.
Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 in C minor (Ed. Robert Haas)
Sir Reginald Goodall conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra
broadcast “live” from Royal Festival Hall on 3 September 1969
Included are two additional concert performances, both with Sir Reginald Goodall conducting the BBC SO.:
> Wagner: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act I
> Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder, with soprano Janet Baker
(in the orchestrations by Felix Mottl 1-IV and Richard Wagner V) both broadcast “live” from Royal Festival Hall on 3 November 1971

Goodall was then invited to conduct Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony at the Proms on 3 September 1969. I was naturally present. The concert’s first part comprised some chamber piece that I have forgotten. After the interval there was an agonizingly long wait before a small, rather frail looking 68-year-old man finally emerged to conduct his first concert in many years. He looked terrified and, seemingly picking up his mood, the prommers gave him an especially warm welcome. Goodall responded with a couple of perfunctory nods and turned to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra. 

He just stuck his short baton in the air, and by some apparent miracle the orchestra started to play. For the next 80 or so minutes I was mesmerized by the warmth and eloquence of the playing, and the beauty and shape of phrasing over Bruckner’s long spans. But I was terrified that at any moment the performance would break down, so vague and imprecise was Goodall’s beat. He also had a strange posture, mainly standing on his left leg, with the right lifted so that his shoe toe just met the podium, as if he was perched on some imaginary stool. Sometimes he shook his baton at the orchestra. 

At the end of the performance the audience erupted, and after two more perfunctory nods Goodall retreated offstage. Somehow he was persuaded back, and before a now wildly cheering audience, the orchestra’s leader, Hugh Bean, had to take the shrinking conductor by the hand and make him acknowledge the ovation. 

A near-contemporaneous photo of the interior of Royal Albert Hall.
A near-contemporaneous photo of the interior of Royal Albert Hall.

I need not have worried. Years later Bean told me that everything had been rehearsed in detail, and he declared that Goodall had the ability somehow to exert full control over a large orchestra. 

The performance was broadcast and I eagerly taped a recorded repeat. Thanks to BBC Legends it was later made commercially available. The CD set [BBCL 4086-2] conveys not only the beauty and grandeur of the performance, but something of the tension of the live experience. 

See more recordings in the Fall 2022 Issue (available in subscriber accounts) on Page 71!