Live review – English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods: Elgar Reimagined Part 2


English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Elgar, arr. David Matthews String Quartet in E minor Op.83 (1918)

Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Recorded September 22 2020 for online broadcast from Friday 14 May 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Following its programme of miniatures – original and arrangements – for cello and strings in March, this latest online concert by the English Symphony Orchestra returned to Elgar for a reading of his String Quartet arranged by David Matthews for a full complement of strings.

This was the second in a triptych of chamber works composed in rural seclusion at Brinkwells in Sussex, Elgar having escaped the wartime disillusion of London for what was to be his last sustained period of creativity. Less introspective than the Violin Sonata that preceded it while less emotionally charged than the Piano Quintet that came after, the String Quartet is the most finely proportioned of the three – unfolding as a sustained sweep whose subtle transformation of thematic elements across and between its three movements make it among the finest of his later compositions. Heard in this guise, it follows on from the Serenade then Introduction and Allegro as the hitherto missing large-scale work for string orchestra of Elgar’s high maturity – which should hopefully commend it to an audience beyond that of the composer’s devotees.

Matthews has numerous arrangements to his credit (not least Schumann’s Piano Concerto as recast for marimba), and he has been mindful to balance the soloistic and ensemble potential of this music, so the result is neither straightforward transcription nor radical re-conception. The opening Allegro moderato discreetly emphasises an autumnal musing that sets the tone for much of what follows; even finer is the second movement – marked Piacevole – whose equability yields a main theme suffused with intensity, the extent of which is only revealed towards the close. If the emotional acuity of the final Allegro is marginally diffused when rendered for larger forces, there is no lack of rhythmic definition as the music proceeds to a coda whose terse decisiveness is far removed from the opulence of just a few years before.

Its idiomatic nature was enhanced by the ESO’s attentive playing under Kenneth Woods, a natural follow-on to their take on the Piano Quintet in Donald Fraser’s arrangement (Avie). Heard together, these two parts of Elgar Reimagined should make for a desirable recording.

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

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