English Symphony Orchestra review


English Symphony Orchestra at Wyastone Leys
English Symphony Orchestra's latest streamed concert, Visions of Childhood, was built around the chamber-sized reduction of Mahler's Fourth Symphony made by Erwin Stein for the ground-breaking series of private concerts created a century ago by Schoenberg to offer performance opportunities to his students.
So we ended with the finale of that symphony, "Das Himmlische Leben", soprano April Fredrick so resourcefully communicative, the tiny ESO remarkably sonorous under Kenneth Woods' quietly urbane conducting.
This instrumental complement, brass replaced by a piano and harmonium, had in fact occasioned the strange arrangement by Woods of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll which began this beautifully-filmed event. The composer himself had scored the work originally for a tiny chamber ensemble (I have conducted it) including a pair of horns and solo trumpet, and we missed them here, especially the handful of notes hurled out by the trumpet at this gorgeous work's climax.
That said, this was a rapt account, every note perfectly placed, immaculately led by Zoe Beyers, fondly remembered from her days with the CBSO.
There followed a sequence of arrangements by Woods, Fredrick totally enchanting in the Sandman's aria from Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel (was she also the children who sang the Evening Hymn?), outraged in Schubert's Die Forelle, Woods interweaving elements of the Trout Quintet between verses of the song, characterful in Mahler's Das Irdische Leben, and bringing a compelling conclusion to Woods' imaginative variations on Schubert's Death and the Maiden, the harmonium appropriately doomily trombone-like.
Streamed concerts are hard work, so much concentration onto the screen required, with no opportunity to flick one's eyes across the auditorium and stage, but a presentation as sensitive and smooth as this made the whole experience very rewarding.
Christopher Morley

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