Live review – Hugh Bonneville, English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods: The Art of Storytelling – The Ugly Duckling

Hugh Bonneville (narrator), Wanda Sobieska (illustrations, above), English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Thursday 19 November 2020 (online)

Kenneth Woods The Ugly Duckling (after H.C. Andersen)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The English Symphony Orchestra has demonstrated its versatility over these past few months with studio concerts of themed programmes. This latest offering takes up a line of pieces for storytelling that its conductor Kenneth Woods has pursued so ingeniously on past occasions.

Although The Ugly Duckling has retained its prominence as a children’s tale ever since Hans Christian Andersen first published it in 1843, its message has tended to be watered down with repetition. While it departs in numerous details, this retelling certainly restores those qualities of fear and anger, mixed with indignation, which remain central to the original’s conception. It helps when the bare bones of the story are conveyed so directly, with no attempt to soften or sentimentalize a narrative in which the notion of social acceptance should be paramount.

In this respect, there could hardly be a more sympathetic narrator than Hugh Bonneville, who relates the story with thoughtfulness and compassion. He is aided in this by illustrations from Wanda Sobieska as (rightly) suggest a setting far removed from comfortable domesticity; one emphasizing that harshness and struggle for survival pertinent to the natural world. Woods’s score ably sustains itself over the 18-minute whole, evoking Copland in innocent wonder but also Shostakovich in its sense of vastness and alienation – prior to a headily affirmative close.

The ESO musicians (shots of whom alternate with the illustrations) play with their customary verve and finesse, and this whole production should prove congenial for children and adults alike. As usual with ESO, a range of supporting material helps enhance the total experience.

You can watch the concert on the English Symphony Orchestra website here

For more information on the English Symphony Orchestra you can visit their website here

For information about Auricolae, visit Kenneth Woods’ website here

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