Online concert – English String Orchestra / Kenneth Woods: Elgar Festival 2022 – In The South

Elgar In The South (Alassio) Op.50 (1903-4)

English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Filmed at Worcester Cathedral, Saturday 4 June 2022

by Richard Whitehouse

The English Symphony Orchestra’s concerts at last year’s Royal Jubilee Elgar Festival have already yielded several online performances of note, with In the South perhaps the finest yet in terms of vindicating a work that can all too easily fall victim to its seeming ‘indulgencies’.

The main issue is in setting a tempo flexible enough to accommodate this concert overture’s extended sonata design without it becoming episodic. At around 24 minutes, this unhurried take was mindful of Worcester Cathedral’s expansive acoustic and utilized it to the music’s advantage. The surging initial theme, its speculative transition and suave second theme duly emerged with a formal continuity – the underlying tension carried through to a development whose impulsiveness was maintained despite (even because of?) the intervening first episode.

Evoking the grandeur of ‘empires past’, this episode necessitates astute handling so that its implacability avoids bathos. Kenneth Woods judged it accordingly, and if his tempo for the second ‘canto populare’ episode felt just a little reticent, its expressive raptness (along with Carl Hill’s playing of its indelible viola melody) more than compensated. Nor was there any loss of continuity across the reprise of the opening themes, with Woods’ gradual building of momentum at the start of the coda ensuring an irresistible but never overbearing apotheosis.

Certainly, the response suggested anyone who may previously have harboured doubts about this piece was won over on this occasion. Further evidence of this orchestra and conductor’s empathy with this music as augers well for the First Symphony at this year’s Elgar Festival.

This concert could be accessed free until 4 April 2023 at the English Symphony Orchestra website, but remains available through ESO Digital by way of a subscription. Meanwhile click on the names for more on the English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods

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