Welcome start to a new series of 20th-century British string music

British Music For Strings I

British Music For Strings I

The Strad Issue: March 2021

Description: Welcome start to a new series of 20th-century British string music

Musicians: Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim/Douglas Bostock

Works: Parry: An English Suite. Elgar: Swinnerton’s Dream (arr. Kunstovny). Jacob: A Symphony for Strings

Catalogue number: CPO 555 382-2

There are few more unfairly neglected yet deeply rewarding areas of the repertoire than British string music, which makes this new series, expertly annotated by Lewis Foreman, especially welcome. The 14-strong Pforzheim ensemble under renowned British conductor Douglas Bostock play with affectionate warmth, tonal lustre and glowing precision, captured in immaculately balanced, atmospheric sound, notable for its extended bass clarity.

Gordon Jacob was a remarkably gifted musician, who could seemingly turn his hand to anything with the same degree of phenomenal expertise, as witness the three-movement A Symphony for Strings, composed in 1943 for the Boyd Neel Orchestra. Typically neo-Classical in impulse, Jacob imbues his material with a humanity and stylistic imprimatur that goes way beyond ‘new-wine-in-old-bottles’ generic patterning.

Jacob made an expert transcription of Elgar’s Organ Sonata, something that double bass player Hans Kunstovny was unaware of when in 2006 he arranged it for string orchestra as Swinnerton’s Dream (a reference to the original dedicatee of the Sonata). For those frustrated by the clouded resonance from which the glorious original almost invariably emerges, this fine performance will have the impact of a fresh discovery.

Hubert Parry’s An English Suite is the best-known work here, and Bostock and his expert band of players make the most of its stylistic reappropriations, while retaining an emotional equanimity that creates a powerful sense of structural cohesion.