Elcock Violin Concerto Op.13 (1996-2006)
Zoë Beyers (violin), English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods
Filmed at the Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, Thursday 26 May 2022. Producer Phil Rowlands / Videographer Tim Burton
by Richard Whitehouse
The English Symphony Orchestra’s online schedule got off to a fine start for this year with a studio account of the Violin Concerto by composer-in-association Steve Elcock. It may have taken shape across nearly a decade, but the work is no less impressive for that. It also marks something of a transition from less ambitious pieces, often conceived with local musicians in mind, to the symphonic works as have recently been performed and recorded to great acclaim – whose formal as well as expressive concerns it anticipates and shares in various instances.
The concerto opens with an Allegro vivo whose rhythmic energy is maintained throughout, yet with sufficient contrast for its second theme to assume greater emotional emphasis in the reprise, prior to a forceful conclusion. The undoubted highlight is a Molto tranquillo whose haunting main theme, first unfolded by the soloist over undulating upper strings in a texture evidently inspired by change-ringing techniques, is a memorable inspiration. A pavane-like idea latterly comes into focus and the closing stage, which opens onto an eloquent plateau before evanescing almost regretfully into silence, lingers long in the memory. The finale is a relatively taut passacaglia whose theme accelerates through five variations from Andante to Presto, culminating in a combative ‘cadenza’ for violin and timpani then a decisive pay-off.
A tough challenge, indeed, for any soloist and one such as Zoë Beyers and the ESO, under Kenneth Woods, met with assurance over its 33 minutes. Aside from its sheer velocity, the first movement is notable for a close-knit interplay between soloist and orchestra here brought off with admirable precision, while the modal subtleties of the slow movement were deftly rendered as enhancements to its overall tonal trajectory. If its sequence of accelerating variations seemed to be over rather too soon, the finale was nevertheless a cohesive entity that saw this piece to a defiant conclusion.
Good to hear that this performance will be released commercially in due course, as a coupling for the Eighth Symphony which the ESO premiered in 2021 and the tone poem Wreck it gave last year – hence making for a persuasive overview of this increasingly significant composer.
This concert can be accessed free until 7 February 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, or on composer Steve Elcock