STEVE ELCOCK (b.1957): Symphony No. 3, Op. 16, Choses renversées par le temps ou la destruction, Op. 20, Festive Overture, Op. 7.
Catalogue Number: 09T001
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0400
Description: The enterprising Toccata Classics has done sterling work in the recent past in unearthing hitherto unknown composers who have pursued the 20th century, tonal, Nordic-Northern European-British axis into the 21st century, presenting major finds including David Hackbridge Johnson (04S008), Jerome de Bromhead (06S008), and Robin Walker (06R070). They may have hit the jackpot with this one. Elcock has labored for decades in complete obscurity, with no professional performances (the first such took place in 2009), precious few amateur ones, and zero contact with the music business. Somehow he forged a completely original style and an exceptional level of craftsmanship in all aspects of the compositional art without falling into opacity or impracticality in performance, producing a sizeable body of powerful, emotionally gripping symphonic music. Symphony No.3 begins with a brash, blaring march, quickly opposed by a mournful second subject presented against an eerie background of divided strings. These starkly contradictory ideas vie for supremacy in their subsequent appearances. This leads to calamity and collapse, out of which an agitated, driven new section begins. Brassy intrusions herald the battle royal between the two original subjects which forms the movement's development section. A rapid and tempestuous coda explodes into ringing silence. The second movement, a kind of malevolent scherzo, starts with what sounds like the beginnings of a conventional, if rather sinister march. But it is just the introduction to the emergence of what the composer accurately describes as an "irritating" ostinato, with a grinning gargoyle sticking its tongue out at the end of every phrase. Every idea that emerges in this movement is immediately sneered and snarled all over with a degree of bitter irony that would give even Shostakovich pause for thought. The grotesque goblin march grows and subsides, and then just as you might think that all the possibilities for vicious satire had surely been explored, a consummately aggravating little music-hall tune of the utmost banality emerges and quickly grows to monstrous size, taking on a threatening aspect. The ostinato re-emerges and the grinning automata continue their relentlessly jaunty march with screaming strings providing a countersubject in their highest register in a climax that recalls Pettersson. This leads without pause into the finale. The tumultuous conflict of the first movement and the viciously sardonic scherzo, impressive as they were, turn out to have been a mere prelude to the titanic tragedy enacted in the finale. This huge movement is a passacaglia of considerable complexity and great technical ingenuity. The first part consists of variations that suggest dramatic tableaux in the telling of some epic drama. The opposition of vastly contrasting forces lends the music an inexorable momentum; thunderous, warlike sections gradually give way to quiet, inward music of increasing strangeness until catastrophe strikes, followed by a passage of numbed stillness. This prefaces the finale proper, an accumulation of kinetic energy, ratcheting up the tension to fever-pitch until it bursts out via an extraordinary episode that sounds like a deliberate nod to the similar xylophone-infested nightmare pursuit in the 'scherzo' of Brian's Gothic, onto the battlefield of the work's final apocalypse. The title of the intensely pessimistic symphonic trilogy "Things Overturned by Time or Destruction" says it all. "Broken Columns" progressively deconstructs a passage of Bach by repeated exposure to a malevolent, corrosive chorale. In "The Mills of God", the mill-wheels grind slowly into life, with gigantic cogs rotating in different complex metrical patterns, accumulating momentum until in a final, brief, apocalyptic vision, the colossal mechanism is glimpsed in its terrifying entirety. "Last Man Standing" alternates passages of melancholy lyricism with vulgar outbursts of crude strength, which finally win the unequal struggle. The music fades out with a trite little waltz like a music-box mindlessly winding down in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The lively Overture combines Waltonian and Elgarian ideas with a good measure of Nielsenesque vitality and energy in a joyous orchestral showpiece. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Mann