Symphony No. 6 Op.30 ‘Tyrants Destroyed’ (2017)
Symphony No. 7 Op.33 (2020)
Manic Dancing Op. 25 (2015)
Marina Kosterina (piano, Manic Dancing), Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev
Producer/Engineer Sergei Zhiganov
Recorded 21-25 June 2021, Philharmonic Hall, Omsk
Toccata Classics TOCC0616 [75’54”]
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Toccata Classics continues its survey of Steve Elcock’s orchestral music with a third volume that features two of his most recent symphonies alongside his piano concerto malgré-lui, each demonstrating a visceral immediacy and a quixotic individuality as previously encountered.
What’s the music like?
After the Beethovenian dialectic of his Fifth Symphony, Elcock concentrated on smaller scale projects prior to its successor. Cast in two movements (the first slightly longer), this might be felt to emulate another totemic Fifth, that by Nielsen, but Elcock’s Sixth is a wholly different proposition. The opening Molto moderato unfolds incrementally and even hesitantly from its subdued beginnings on lower strings, so making the baleful climactic processional the more unnerving when it suddenly arrives. Nor does the ensuing Allegro bring any real catharsis – its gradual and methodical build-up (via that cumulative harmonic and rhythmic intensifying found in Pettersson but which Elcock has made his own) at length culminating in a vehement peroration which would seem to fulfil the remit of this work’s subtitle in unequivocal terms.
Three years on and the Seventh Symphony sees a very different approach. Here every aspect speaks of intended equivocation, the single movement redolent of Elcock’s Fourth in variety of incident yet eschewing its tonal and textural complexity for an overt transparency abetted by relatively modest instrumentation and modally informed clarity of content. Vestiges of an expanded sonata design can be sensed in the stealthy alternation of slower and faster tempos, leading to a central developmental crux as brings in its wake less a reprise than the statement of a melody evidently heard in a dream but whose eloquence and poise seem nothing if not tangible. From here the music heads back towards its modal origins, then it evanesces away for what is the deftest and most affecting conclusion in any of Elcock’s symphonies thus far.
Placed between these symphonies as (necessary) shock-absorber, Manic Dancing is another of Elock’s concertante pieces. The integration of piano and orchestra recalls the Sinfoniettas Giocosa and La Jolla by Martinů, even if the febrile velocity of its outer Allegros could hardly be mistaken for urbanity. The central Largo in the emotional heart in every sense – its limpid opening offset by a restiveness to the fore in twin climaxes, with cadenza-like facets emerging out of the texture before the animated music resumes its designedly manic course.
Does it all work?
Indeed, not least in underlining the overt distinctiveness of Elcock’s symphonies as taken on their own terms. As before, the playing of the Siberian Symphony Orchestra leaves nothing to chance in bringing out the sheer imagination and richness of the orchestral writing, with Dmitry Vasiliev ensuring that formal cohesion remain paramount. Marina Kosterina contributes animated and resourceful pianism, and those who have responded positively to earlier volumes in this series (TOCC0400/0445) will be gripped or maybe even a little disconcerted by this latest addition.
Is it recommended?
Yes, not least with sound of clarity and impact comparable to earlier instalments, and detailed notes from Francis Pott. Toccata will hopefully continue its series of Elcock’s chamber music, while the English Symphony Orchestra has recorded his Eighth Symphony for future release.