Zoe Beyers violin
English Symphony Orchestra
Kenneth Woods Conductor


Composer Steve Elcock is living proof that we should never give up hope. As he outlines on his website, he wrote music with seemingly no hope of it being performed, but with computer technology, was able to ‘mock up’ his orchestral music into satisfactory ‘demos’.

In 2013 his work came to the attention of Martin Anderson, director of Toccata Classics, and recordings and performances he could only have dreamed of came about. This is all to the good for we listeners because his music is of extraordinary quality. 

The Violin Concerto was written over a ten-year period, appearing as a wonderfully satisfying three movement work in the classical tradition. The opening is punchy and dramatic with much athletic writing for soloist, ESO leader Zoe Beyers.  It is hard to believe it was originally conceived for an amateur orchestra.

The slow movement is based on change ringing bell technique. The overlapping violins and violas initially provide a shimmering background to the solo violin’s yearning melody. It is beautifully constructed and builds with an almost Sibelian tension to a climax in D major before disappearing.

The finale could have been a cerebral passacaglia, but such is the composer’s ingenuity that the form disappears into the music. Over its six minutes it builds from slow to fast and ends on a high, guaranteed to have the audience on its feet. There is much wonderfully idiomatic writing for the violin, and the orchestration is so transparent that there is no danger of her being overshadowed.

Symphony no 8 had an even longer gestation period beginning as a string quartet in 1981. Decades later, on revisiting it, the composer arranged it for strings, naming it a sinfonietta.  Kenneth Woods then asked for a symphony of classical orchestra size for the 2021 Three Choirs Festival.

40 years on, with the addition of wind, brass and timpani, the final form was reached. It sounds organically constructed in one movement of 25 minutes, but with many seamless tempo changes. The brooding opening moves into a breathless scherzo-like section with some wonderful scurrying writing for the wind, before winding down to a quite ending, tinged with tragedy. It is a tremendously satisfying work that, without having a programme, seems to take us on a journey.

I have not heard any of Mr Elcock’s music before, but I shall certainly be looking out for more.  This is a composer of real significance, writing music, tuneful, brilliantly orchestrated and communicative. It is exactly the type of work that sadly disappeared from concert halls in the 60s and 70s, and which we need more than ever now. The composer could not wish for better advocates than the performers and engineers assembled here. 

 Review by Paul RW Jackson