Live review – Thomas Kraines, Henry Goodman, English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods: The Art of Storytelling – Hansel and Gretel

eso-hansel

Thomas Kraines (music), Henry Goodman (narrator), Members of the English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Recorded 20 July 2020, available online from Friday 9 April 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The English Symphony Orchestra reaches the penultimate instalment of its series for virtual storytelling with one of the most enduring among fairy tales – Hansel and Gretel, here given in the more abrasive version such as leaves little or no room for sentimental embellishments.

Although it has always been a parable for the playing-off of good against evil, the intensified recent concern about the exploitation of children has given this story a more ominous undertow. Little of that was emphasized here, yet the scenario remains one where the brutal corrupting of innocence is foremost; whether in the guise of the stepmother, rendered here in scarifying Irish, or that of the witch whose tendency to caricature is judged to a nicety. That neither children nor woodcutter exudes much in the way of persona may itself be significant.

As will have been realized, Henry Goodman is an animated and appealing narrator as he leads the listener through a story where incident likely counts for more than the ultimate destination. The score itself shows Thomas Kraines’s knack for moving across genres and styles with real sureness of touch, alighting on elements of German romanticism and expressionism to inflect those highpoints of the narrative. That the theme for the stepmother and the witch is a 12-note row brings a fresh perspective to a conceit whose lineage stretches back over nearly a century.

As in previous instalments the ESO musicians play with skill and sensitivity, Kenneth Woods ensuring clarity and balance even in the densest textures. The presentation is sure to provoke children of all ages and, as usual, a range of sundry material enhances the overall 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

Live review – Henry Goodman, English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods: The Art of Storytelling – Lubin from Chelm

David Yang (above, music), Alisa Snyder (illustrations) Henry Goodman (narrator), English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth
Friday 4 December 2020 (online)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Following on last week’s arresting version of The Ugly Ducking, the English Symphony Orchestra continues its series of pieces for virtual storytelling in the guise of an old English tale here given an inimitably Jewish twist to result in the ‘morality’ fable Lubin from Chelm.

While the tale of Lazy Jack might hardly have seemed other than an English story, it works well when relocated within Ukrainian Jewish environs then decked out with Yiddish turns of phrase and Klezmer stylings. The anti-hero Lubin – put to work only at the prompting of his aging mother, who is incapable of holding on to his wages, but who enchants the daughter of Chelm’s wealthiest family – could be interpreted in various ways; that of fortune smiling on those who least expect it, yet are by no means the least deserving, is the most straightforward.

Henry Goodman certainly makes the most of this barbed whimsy, relating the narrative with audible enjoyment as he assumes the role of Yiddish storyteller with aplomb. He is abetted by David Yang’s direct and characterful score, engagingly conducted by Kenneth Woods (who undertook the expert orchestrations) and illustrated by Alisa Snyder with a true appreciation of what line drawings are capable of conveying in this context. A few linguistic ‘curve-balls’ are thrown in, without detracting from the self-effacing directness of the unfolding narrative.

The ESO musicians (shots of whom alternate with the illustrations) play with their customary skill and sensitivity, and the whole production ought to amuse as well as provoke children and adults alike. As usual with ESO, a range of supporting material enhances 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