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Steve ELCOCK (b. 1957)
Orchestral Music - Volume 1

Symphony No. 3, Op. 16 (2005–10) [36:56]
Choses renversées par le temps ou la destruction, Op. 20 (2013) [24:13]
Festive Overture, Op. 7 (1997) [11:07]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Mann
Richard Casey (harpsichord)
rec. 2017, The Friary, Everton, Liverpool

Steve Elcock was born in Chesterfield and is a self-taught composer who since 1981 has lived in France. His career in language services has been balanced with composition and conducting a local amateur symphony orchestra. Contact with the composer Robin Walker and then with Martin Anderson has led to the present CD, marked as, "Volume 1". It has also resulted in Elcock's Fifth Symphony which is dedicated to Martin Anderson. His music has been welcomed with open arms by several other composers including David Matthews, David Hackbridge Johnson and Michael Csanyi-Wills.

Elcock's Third Symphony is in three lanky movements and is dedicated to Michael George a BBC producer and one-time baritone who made a distinctive place for himself by broadcasts and recordings of Bridge's A Prayer, Geoffrey Bush's Cantata Piccola, George Butterworth's Love Blows as the Wind Blows, Finzi's By Footpath and Stile and Let Us Garlands Bring and Cyril Scott's La Belle Dame Sans Merci. George it was, in his BBC capacity, who brought Elcock his first professional performance in Manchester with the BBCPO.

The Symphony is troubled, restless and seethes with action and incident. I thought, at first, of Havergal Brian but the connective tissue between ideas in the Elcock work is easier to grasp. The music is tonal, somewhere between Walton and Simpson. There's a propulsive first movement and a second movement that includes a disconcertingly cheeky ragamuffin of a circus march. There are parallel episodes in Arnold symphonies 5 and 8. This shabby but memorable march decays but, seemingly irrepressible, reforms itself. The world is still a magnificent as well as despairing place as the third and concluding movement seems to imply. The magical quiet writing in this movement is in constant flux. Peace comes briefly but, as at 4:30, magnificently disruptive forces soon stride and shamble forward to tell you that the composer is looking over his shoulder. Ultimately, after a scorching upward sweeping hysterical figure from the trumpets, the symphony is borne to its conclusion on a wave of energy.

Choses renversées par le temps ou la destruction is in three parts. The first starts remarkably with quiet desolation on harpsichord, crotales and violins at ppp. Breathy brass tensely suggest some Ozymandias landscape. The harpsichord is an almost ceaseless presence but never implies bewigged Dresden figures - something more ancient. The second, Moulins de dieu, embodies a world not far removed from the first movement. It is sombre; quiet but not restful. A certain elysian luminosity swirls in at 6.50 and it's comparable with Silvestrov’s Symphony 5. The declamatory "mills of God" enter in mechanistic uproar at the end and grind away amid the harp-swirled lambency. Without a break we are into Dernier homme début in which crashing steely percussion alternate with harp swirls. Music of a deep-rooted consolatory signature has the upper hand. There's a very English clarinet solo at 3.30 but interruption comes from cawing brass. Woodwind caper and leer in the background but the eternal clockwork winds down as cogs and impulse falter and fall into silence. Then comes a soft tam-tam resonation and rumble. Choses Renversées is dedicated to Paul Mann.

The Festive Overture begins with a concatenation of fanfares rather like Panufnik in his proclamatory mood. A flurry of magnificent sound sweeps up in a glorious rush. This is classic British concert overture territory in the manner of George Lloyd, Paul Lewis or Lionel Sainsbury. It's all you might hope for: a nice line in cantabile, a Waltonian catchiness and a gauntly exultant way rather like Malcolm Arnold's The Roots of Heaven. It would work well as the launch for any great festival. Intriguing to see that it has been around since 1997.

Apart from at least five symphonies, Elcock harbours an orchestral piece Hammering, the tone poem The Wreck and two works for string quartet The Cage of Opprobrium and The Girl from Marseille.

There has been a flurry of otherwise largely unknown English composers on Toccata and their discs have sprung up like unruly sunflowers. Look at them: David Hackbridge Johnson, Robin Walker and Jerome de Bromhead. We are not talking the great recognised names for whom some adulation is already commanded, such as Stephen Dodgson and David Matthews. These are otherwise genuinely unheard and the discs in question are usually orchestral and labelled, with fearsome confidence, "volume 1". Now we have Steve Elcock; 'Steve', mark you, not 'Stephen'.

The booklet is good, as usual. Elcock writes his own biographical outline while conductor Paul Mann surveys the music and does so helpfully for the most part. That said, his descriptions of the music are far too extended for my taste although they certainly proclaim meticulous attention to the scores, composer MIDI files and completed studio takes. Mann has been a hero of the obscure cause and is to be blessed for that. His Toccata CDs of Leif Solberg, Charles O'Brien, Henry Cotter Nixon, Josef Schelb and David Hackbridge Johnson are there to adduce in evidence. Can Elcock's second volume be far behind?

Rob Barnett
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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