On record – Steve Elcock: Chamber Music Vol.1 (Toccata Classics)

The Veles Ensemble (Hartmut Richter (violin), Ralitsa Naydenova (viola), Evva Mizerska (cello), with Daniel Shao (flute), Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Yuri Kalnits (violin), Leon Bosch (double bass), Catalina Ardelean (piano)

Steve Elcock
Clarinet Sextet Op.11b (2001/14)
String Trio no.1 Op.8b (1998/2016)
The Shed Dances Op.26b (2016)
An Outstretched Hand Op.24 (2015)

Toccata Classics TOCC0506 [79’36”]

Producer & Engineer Michael Ponder

Recorded 21-22 May 2018, St Silas, Chalk Farm, London, 24 May 2018 (Sextet, Trio, The Shed Dances), Henry Wood Hall (An Outstretched Hand)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Following an impressive disc of his orchestral music (TOCC0400, reviewed on Arcana here), Steve Elcock (b1957) is given further coverage by Toccata Classics with this release of chamber music, reaffirming him as a force to be reckoned with among those symphonic composers from his generation.

What’s the music like?

Every bit as engrossing as the works on that earlier release – that is, uncompromising without being unyielding and serious without being (unduly) earnest. This is evident from the earliest piece here, Elcock’s First String Trio having been conceived for two violins and viola before reaching its present guise. A tensile single movement pivots constantly between the fractious and consoling, at times encroaching upon a more equable expression that nevertheless fails to sustain itself, and with a conclusion where even the most tenuous poise is summarily denied.

Starting out as a Concertino for clarinet and string orchestra, the Clarinet Sextet is on a larger scale – opening with an Allegro whose clear-cut sonata design opens-out intriguingly with a cadenza-like passage just before the reprise. Similarly, the Romanza is thrown off-balance by a faster central section which duly intensifies the climactic stages, and if the progress of the final Variations and Theme seems more arresting as regards form rather than content, the gentle evanescence after the theme has been elaborated feels as subtle as it is intriguing.

More immediately approachable, The Shed Dances began life as a sequence for violin and piano before being recast for clarinet and string trio. Written at the suggestion of a sufferer from the neurological condition known as ataxia, all six dances are thwarted or undermined by rhythmic imbalances that are only effortfully overcome – the most memorable being the inhibited gait of Petrified minuet, edgy impulsiveness of Boneyard antics and winsome swaying of Marion’s pavane which confirms Elcock as possessing no mean melodic gift.

Finally, to An Outstretched Hand whose inspiration in the stark contrasts of composing as an act of friendship across the centuries and the burgeoning refugee crisis across Europe became fused into this powerfully sustained single movement for flute, clarinet and piano quartet. Its sombre initial Largo is followed by two Allegros (themselves separated by a stark interlude) whose increasingly confrontational manner carries over to a final Largo which recalls earlier material in a mood that, fatalistic rather than merely defeatist, exudes the keenest poignancy.

Does it all work?

Yes, in almost all respects. It helps when these performances are so evidently attuned to this idiom, teasing subtleties out of the charged formal processes and grating expressive contrasts that are recognizable Elcock traits. The overall programme is carried by the Veles Ensemble, whose tonal finesse and tangible commitment to this music is evident throughout – which is hardly to decry the contributions of those other musicians featured here. Hopefully it should prove possible for these pieces to be heard in public performance on some future occasion.

Is it recommended?

Certainly – not least when the sound is unexceptionally fine, and the composer’s annotations are unfailingly to the point. Elcock’s growing admirers will be pleased to hear that a further disc of orchestral music (including the Fifth Symphony) is scheduled for imminent release.

Listen and Buy

You can listen to clips and purchase this disc from the Toccata Classics website

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