"...an outstanding addition the the Elgar canon.... ....a Fourth Symphony!....
The Birmingham Post
CD Details Artists Conductor Kenneth Woods
The English Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra
The Rodolfus Choir - Ralph Allwood, director
Recorded at Abbey Road Studio 1 and the Elgar Hall Birmingham
Score and Parts available for hire.
Birmingham Post - Christopher Morley .......a triumph........more than masterly....
Two of the most exciting events I have experienced during a reviewing career approaching half a century involve symphonies Elgar never wrote.
Anthony Payne's realisation of the incomplete sketches the dying Elgar left for a Third Symphony is the stuff of miracles, and now comes Donald Fraser's orchestration of the Piano Quintet.
This "War Symphony" (the title taking its cue from an entry in Alice Elgar's diary) is a triumph in its recreation of Elgar's rich orchestral sound-world, and though Fraser, unlike Payne, had all the material in front of him, he had the difficult task of making us forget the original medium and accept the new one.
And that is surprisingly so easily done. Hearing the transcription's world premiere from the English Symphony Orchestra I was amazed at how quickly I was failing to miss the sounds of the original. Instead the ear revelled in an aural palette based on the large orchestra of Elgar's First Symphony (and how much the Quintet's slow movement in its new clothing matched the slow movement of that symphony, whilst also evoking the otherworldly peacefulness of the opening of the second part of the Dream of Gerontius).
Fraser's assimilation of Elgar's orchestral methods bears fascinating fruit and then some. His antiphonal use of brass, athletic horns in conversation with the heavier mob on the other side of the stage, is a highly effective resource; his deployment of percussion (quietly menacing timpani, skeletal tambourine) adds to the points being made, and the strings sing and cushion with gorgeous depths of tone.
Certainly the timbres are opulent, looking back to the First Symphony instead of forward to the spare grittiness of the Third, but they and the textures are genuinely, uncannily Elgarian.
The ESO certainly played with an enthusiastic awareness that they were making history, and the devoted, unassuming Kenneth Woods conducted with an easy flexibility that recalled the work's chamber-music origins. This "War Symphony" deserves to be acknowledged immediately as a worthy addition to the Elgar canon.
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…….Many congratulations upon this afternoon. Donald's orchestration was more than masterly, and I was amazed at how soon I was not missing the quintet idiom! And yet you conducted with the intimate flexibility of chamber-music, so we had the best of both worlds.
……...my thanks and admiration on to Donald. We have a work which should immediately be admitted to the Elgar orchestral canon -- Symphony no.4, in fact! Christopher Morley
I'm hoping my review will go all around the world, whether from the Birmingham Post, Musical Opinion, or the Elgar Society (I've sent it to all three).
I had been expecting to be tolerant and quietly dismissive. In the event, I can't stop talking about it. This is up there with Payne. Payne had to struggle with the missing bits, but Donald has had to struggle with our stubborn clingings-onto the original. He succeeded brilliantly.
REVIEW - Hereford Times by Spencer Allman The English String Orchestra at Hereford Cathedral THE English String Orchestra is contributing to a pilgrimage in honour of Edward Elgar. The musical journey through the West Midlands started on October 7 in Hereford Cathedral; fittingly, since Elgar spent seven years of his life here. The concert began with the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which was first performed in Gloucester Cathedral in 1910 as part of the Three Choirs Festival. Vaughan Williams uses no special effects with the orchestra; instead the strings are divided into three groups of diminishing proportions, a device that constantly arrests the attention. Apparently, the audience at the premiere was at once bewildered and spellbound. Tonight we were simply spellbound, thanks largely to the meticulous attention to detail on the part of conductor Kenneth Woods. There followed Songs of Loss and Regret by Philip Sawyers, who had introduced his work in a pre-concert talk earlier. Clearly a composer who eschews modernism, Sawyers presented us with a cycle of sombre, vaguely Mahlerian settings of poems, chiefly on the themes of war and death. The items had a sense of sameness about them (no criticism, this), interrupted, however, by two brasher sections that seemed to owe something to Britten.
Sawyer’s piece was beautifully written in the main, and sung with a blend of tragedy and rapture by the American soprano April Fredrick.
The second half of the concert was given over to music by Edward Elgar.
His Introduction and Allegro for Strings, op. 47, is deservedly popular. No easy piece to bring off - the cellos and double basses are made to work hard - it explores a range of very Elgarian emotions, from serenity to a sadness that verges on despair.
To round off the evening, we were given a special treat: Elgar’s Sea Pictures arranged for Choir and Strings by Donald Fraser. For this, the ensemble was joined by the Academia Musica Choir, an enterprise that saw its beginnings at Hereford Sixth Form College.
Normally scored for contralto solo, this moving version worked so convincingly that at times I was hard put to recall the original.
This had been a carefully thought out programme, the concert itself once again proof that the city of Hereford is no backwater in the world of serious music.
theArtsFuse review 6/18/16 .......the Quintet proves a magnificent revelation........engrossing and triumphant....
There’s a 20th- and 21st-century market — not a big or terribly successful one, but a market all the same — for reworking the music of great composers after their deaths, either to suit the times or to somehow expand their reach. The best of these (to my mind, generally by Arnold Schoenberg) tend to succeed through some combination of sheer extravagance and a total departure from the restraints of a given composer’s sound world. Rarely, though, does orchestrating Brahms in the style of Brahms or Mahler in the style of Mahler lead anywhere promising: the end results tend to sound warmed over and thin. So that makes the success of Donald Fraser’s engrossing and triumphant orchestration of Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet all the more impressive. The end result is essentially Elgar’s Symphony no. 3 (or no. 4, if you want to fit Anthony Payne’s completion of Elgar’s sketches for his projected Third Symphony into the count): mighty, stirring, and often touchingly beautiful. Fraser’s Piano Quintet, though, proves a more satisfying contribution to the Elgar canon than does Payne’s sometimes maligned, effort. In all, Fraser’s is a smart, convincing adaptation. It’s played to the hilt on Avie’s new recording by the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Woods. The disc’s liner notes speak of the players’ excitement in rehearsal and performance and that comes across palpably here. The big, tragic first movement stirs and weeps, while the second powerfully recalls the haunting slow movement of the Second Symphony. And the finale, if (like in the original chamber version) it runs a little bit too long, offers playing of vigor and real catharsis. .......the Quintet proves a magnificent revelation. That’s more than enough, in and of itself, to justify this album. Arts Fuse Elgar review