STEVE ELCOCK (b.1957): Orchestral Music, Vol. 3 - Symphony No. 6, Op. 30 “Tyrants Destroyed”, Manic Dancing, Op. 25, Symphony No. 7, Op. 33.
Catalogue Number: 03X005
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0616
Description: More from this unique composer of immensely compelling symphonic works, whose output was almost completely unknown until this enterprising series started (09T001, 05V001). Volume 3 does not disappoint, but further confirms our contention that "the composer - without a hint of hyperbole - [is] one of the music world's most exciting and overdue discoveries of recent decades. … [a] wholly original, largely self-taught composer whose music lies on the northern-European axis of Nordic and British composers, and whose legacy thus far includes a sizeable canon of powerful, tonal symphonies and symphonic poems." The Seventh Symphony is cast in a single monolithic span. It opens with an air of tense expectancy, with distant echoes of Sibelius. This restrained first section has echoes of Busoni, and includes a passage of Elgarian nobility. A sudden violent eruption sets a faster pulse for an extended section that continues to develop material already heard, arriving at a stormy climax that soon subsides uneasily into what sounds like the beginning of a slow movement. Lasting barely two minutes, this disconsolate music fails to develop, and is abruptly dismissed by the furious return of the Allegro, which ushers in the apocalyptic final battle scene of the symphony. As the superb booklet notes by Francis Pott (07W063, 08X059) - set a composer to catch a composer - put it: "This titanic music remains at or near boiling point for an implausibly long period …" in a climax of huge tempestuous momentum, strongly recalling the spirit (if only a passing resemblance to the letter) of the explosive conflict and defiant exultation of the timpani duel, or the vanquishing of the side drum, in Nielsen's 4th and 5th symphonies. The center cannot hold against these volcanic forces, and the thing finally flies apart and descends, exhausted into the depths. Out of the devastation rises an achingly beautiful melody, developed in one of the most heartbreakingly desolate conclusions to any symphony in the canon. Eventually even this disintegrates, losing its shape and structure, and finally all is still. The Sixth Symphony bears the somewhat perplexing title "Tyrants Destroyed" - no further details or programmatic intent have been provided by the composer. To be sure, titanic conflicts and cataclysmic battle scenes are part and parcel of the Elcock canon, but not noticeably more (or less!) so here than elsewhere. The symphony is in two large movements, slow-fast. The first opens quietly, a heavy-treading sarabande rhythm emerging from the shadows. As a stately, sombre sarabande in modern harmonic garb, it inevitably invites comparison with Busoni’s orchestral interlude from Doktor Faust. A "second subject" is an extended, long-breathed eloquent threnody for strings; a sarcastic parody of the sarabande reappears to resume the movement's funereal tread. The two ideas coexist in a kind of sombre reverie, until abruptly blasted aside by an explosive outburst punctuated by stabbing off-beat chords. The movement subsides into an ambiguously calm recollection of the second subject. The second movement begins tempestuously, with motivic material very reminiscent of the storm music from Peter Grimes, which is developed organically at some length. It crescendoes steadily toward a powerful climax after which the material is further explored in tense counterpoint. Another storm breaks, and sombre theme emerges, initially accompanied by the side drum, sotto voce, tapping out an unrelated rhythmic pattern, like an uncanny, ghostly reminiscence of the conflict in Nielsen 5 glimpsed from a great distance. This theme ends with a syncopated pendant gesture in quavers which becomes increasingly important as it begins to be repeated obsessively in increasingly dense fugal textures as the music gathers momentum. From this point onward the music's propulsive dynamism gathers strength in earnest, its inexorable momentum finally leading to the inevitable battlefield conflagration, terrifyingly punctuated by hammer blows on a steel plate. Entirely without warning the music is flung into a modal cadence of archaic grandeur, arriving on a monumental triumphant concluding gesture - instantly dismissed by a final catastrophic spasm. To quote the notes, quoting Edwin Muir, Elcock's music occupies "a difficult land. Here things miscarry." Do they ever, in the piano concerto Manic Dancing. This is what happens when Elcock's unique musical expression and peculiar psychology find their way into what at first appearance masquerades as a lively, diverting virtuoso vehicle. "Manic" doesn’t even begin to describe this gleefully unhinged totentanz in a single span that nevertheless suggests a three-section form.. The relentless cross-rhythms, off-beat accents and syncopation immediately announce that this is an entirely undanceable dance from the first bars; and sinister undertones appear early on, culminating in a climax that ushers in the unsettling rattling that opens the nightmare landscape of the "slow movement". Throughout the entire work the music alternates disconcertingly between parodying the conventions of classical, romantic, and jazz concerto styles and this is especially true in this section, which entirely without warning suddenly rears up in a colossal climax that belongs in an epic symphony, not a quarter-hour "dance" concerto. The "finale" is relentlessly propulsive, with hints of Prokofiev, but also of jazz; and the surreal momentary intrusion of a Baroque flashback, which abruptly takes over the theme and which the composer would apparently like to be played "preferably by a pianist wearing an eighteenth-century wig, on a harpsichord, while the real soloist pretends to play it on the piano." After an incongruous attempt at sunny geniality, the piece ends with what Pott aptly describes as a "riotous mass ‘jam session’", during which a big band seems to have wandered in to lend weight to the final scamper to the finish. Siberian Symphony Orchestra; Dmitri Vasiliev.