British Music for Strings
Elgar: Organ Sonata in G (arr. Hans Kunstovny); Jacob: A Symphony for Strings; Parry: An English Suite
Southwest German Chamber Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
CPO 555 382-2 71:05 mins
Just a few months into English conductor Douglas Bostock’s first season as artistic director of the Southwest German Chamber Orchestra, COVID-19 shut concerts down. This new album had already been recorded, however, and is the first in a projected series of British string music.
The puckish skirls and jaunty rhythms in the ‘Prelude’ to Parry’s An English Suite show the 14 players keenly attuned to its courtly, neo-baroque idiom. The ‘Saraband’ is grave without over-emphasis, the ‘Caprice’ cutting and skittish, and the dancing ‘Frolic’ caps out an infectiously entertaining interpretation.
Gordon Jacob’s A Symphony for Strings is a darker piece. Written in 1943, it has no explicit programme, but its solemn opening Andante and the stoical Allegro that follows suggest its wartime background. The central Andante implants a haunting threnody for solo violin in the string writing, and the movement as a whole is shaped by Bostock and his players with satisfying nuance and cogency.
Jacob’s Symphony makes a canny companion piece to a work he himself orchestrated, Elgar’s Organ Sonata. The version heard here, though, is one for strings only by Hans Kunstovny, former principal bass with the Southwest German Chamber Orchestra. On paper it doesn’t look a promising idea, but Kunstovny makes a highly convincing case for his transcription, and Bostock elicits a bracingly articulate performance. I listened to the organ original for comparison and, perhaps heretically, enjoyed the string arrangement more. Elgarians will, I suspect, love it.