English Symphony Orchestra Holocaust concert


streamed from Wyastone Leys ****

"Inspired by Mahler" was the apt title for this English Symphony Orchestra programme marking Holocaust Memorial Day. Mahler considered himself a triple outsider, not least because of his Jewishness, and though he himself prospered as a composer and conductor (undoubtedly the first transatlantic superstar of the podium), the other composers in this streamed concert suffered, some indeed perishing in Nazi concentration camps. It is quite a thought to reflect that had not heart disease brought about his early death, Mahler himself might have been one of those victims.
Kenneth Woods conducted a sequence of works which was both shrewd and loving, beginning with Das Irdische Leben by Mahler himself. Like Schubert's Erl King, this is a song depicting a child's journey to death, and April Fredrick was the gripping soloist. Her soprano voice here displayed a warm mezzo timbre, and continues to grow in authority.
Thanks in good part to Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla's advocacy with the CBSO, Miecyslaw Weinberg is the composer of the moment, and his Concertino for Violin and Strings proved a wonderful find. Its opening melody is as gorgeous as that of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, there is an equally gorgeous slow movement, and the finale is a bittersweet waltz. There is something of a Jewish melancholy throughout the work which also characterises the Finzi Clarinet Concerto.
Zoe Beyers was the persuasive, virtually ever-present soloist, Woods' ESO collaborating with empathy.
We moved into a nightclub scenario for Erwin Schulhoff's Suite for Chamber Orchestra, some lady players sporting fascinators, and the lighting suitably atmospheric for this dada-ist work citing louche dance rhythms. Satie's Parade came to mind, which was perhaps an unfair comparison, but this Suite often outlives its welcome. The performance, however, was straight-faced and delicate, and the fourth movement percussion cameo was a miracle of precision.
Woods' own arrangement of Viktor Ullmann's String Quartet no.3, now renamed Chamber Symphony, brought us music which was often meltingly-textured but also rhythmically incisive. There were some wonderful solo contributions from the principal cellist, but without a printed programme one doesn't know who to credit.
And it will be so good when we no longer have to note that there was immaculate social distancing between the players. Desk-partnership is sich an important element in orchestral performance.
Christopher Morley

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