The New and the Old
Steve Elcock’s Violin Concerto and Symphony No. 8

In a new recording coming from Nimbus, South African violinist Zoë Beyers, with the English Symphony Orchestra, takes on English composer Steve Elcock (b. 1957) and his 2006 Violin Concerto. Elcock is quite a discovery. Self-trained as a composer, he has worked for the last 50 years in France in language services, with composing as a side hobby. Recordings of his orchestral music and chamber music have been released since 2017 and quickly came to the attention of the world, with his Orchestral Music, Vol. 1, containing his Symphony No. 3, becoming CD of the Week on BBC Radio 3.

Steve Elcock

Steve Elcock

For this world premiere recording, the composer discusses this work, which he began in 1996. It consisted solely of one movement and was for strings alone. The slow movement eventually followed, and the final movement appeared in 2006.

The first movement is one of pure energy, and the composer says he was trying to return to an ideal of classical momentum that he felt had been lost from the Romantic period onward. Even when the expansive second theme appears, the violas ‘niggle’ it from below, driving it forward.

Steve Elcock: Violin Concerto – I. Allegro

The second movement takes its inspiration from most English musical genres, change-ringing in bells. The sound evokes the idea of slowly changing bells ringing across a valley, with the violin seeming to skate above. In the development section, the bell-like sound takes on an uncharacteristic, dotted rhythm and rises to a radiant climax. The movement ends, fading away as the bells cease to sound.

The finale, a passacaglia, is, at the same time a gradual accelerando, moving from Andante to ever faster, carefully laid out as: Passacaglia. Andante—Moderato—Più allegro—Allegro vivace—Subito presto—A tempo, minacciando—Allegro molto—Adagio—Più adagio—Ancora meno mosso. The gradual winding up of the tempo brings us back to the energetic idea of the opening movement.

The recording closes with Elcock’s Symphony No. 8, which, although originally started in 1981, is based on a string quartet he’d written in 1981. His original title, Dark Tidings: Sinfonietta for Strings, was dismissed by Martin Anderson, Founder and Director of Toccata Classics, as being unworthy of a work that was clearly a symphony.

When Kenneth Woods, conductor on this recording, contacted Elcock for a work to contribute to his 21st Century Symphony Project, which needed to be for a ‘Beethoven Seven’-sized orchestra (2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in A (E and D in the inner movements), 2 trumpets in D, timpani, and strings). Woods also advocated for the title of the piece to be Symphony and so Elcock reorchestrated the work, changing it from all strings by adding woodwind, brass, and timpani in keeping with the Beethoven model.

The composer describes the mood of the pieces as ‘desperation in the teeth of impending tragedy’ and the ongoing tension of the work is one of its most fascinating aspects.

It will be fascinating to watch and listen for the rest of Elcock’s works, new and old, to appear. His distinctive voice has now spanned 10 symphonies, concertos, symphonic poems, and chamber music. He will be the invited composer at the end of May for the Elgar Festival in Worcester and will be in conversation with the Festival’s Artistic Director, Kenneth Woods.

Steve Elcock: Symphony No. 8 & Violin Concerto album cover

Steve Elcock: Symphony No. 8 and Violin Concerto
Record No: Nimbus NI 6446
Release date: 7 June 2024

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