Elgar Re-Imagined. Raphael Wallfisch Premieres 11 New Elgar Miniatures for Cello and Strings Orchestrated by Donald Fraser with English String Orchestra

11 Mar, 2021


The English String Orchestra are joined by one of their most longstanding collaborators, cellist Raphael Wallfisch, for a concert featuring a suite of eleven new miniatures for cello and strings by Sir Edward Elgar in arrangements by composer Donald Fraser. The programme, conducted by Kenneth Woods, will premiere at 7:30 PM on Friday the 19th of March on ESO Digital and Facebook Video.

As the professional orchestra of Elgar’s home city, and orchestra-in-residence of The Elgar Festival, the music of Elgar has long been a central part of the ESO’s repertoire. Past ESO collaborators include some of the leading Elgar interpreters of the last 50 years, including conductors Yehudi Menuhin and Vernon Handley and soloists Nigel Kennedy, Nicola Benedetti and Alexander Sitkovetsky. Most recently, the English Symphony Orchestra were asked to give the official 100th Anniversary performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto under the auspices of the Elgar Society, Elgar Birthplace and Elgar Festival with Raphael Wallfisch in Worcester Cathedral.

It was at the concert that Wallfisch met composer Donald Fraser, whose choral arrangement of Elgar’s Sea Pictures was being featured on the same concert. Wallfisch suggested that perhaps Fraser orchestrate a few of Elgar’s shorter works for cello and strings, and over the following year the project expanded in scope to finally comprise the eleven movement suite heard in this concert. The pieces include several standalone miniatures from Elgar’s catalogue, such as the much-loved Salut d’Amour and Chanson de Matin, but also includes excerpts from larger works, such as Nimrod from the Enigma Variations, and transcriptions from other concert pieces, like the Romanza, originally for bassoon and symphony orchestra.

“Like Brahms, Dvorak and Schubert, Elgar was one of music’s greatest miniaturists,” says conductor Kenneth Woods. “Each of these compact mini-masterpieces inhabits its own emotional world and tells its own story.”

Fraser first became involved in orchestrating Elgar’s music at the request of the ESO’s former Principal Guest Conductor, Yehudi Menuhin, in the early 1980’s. More recent arrangements include the choral version of Sea Pictures, which has quickly become a favourite of choirs all over the world and been performed at a number of major festivals. In 2015, the ESO’s premiere performance of Fraser’s orchestration of the Elgar Piano Quintet was named Classical Music Magazine’s Premiere of the Year, and Birmingham Post senior music critic Chris Morley called the performance one of the two “most exciting events I have experienced during a reviewing career approaching half…. It deserves to be acknowledged immediately as a worthy addition to the Elgar canon.” The CD release of the Quintet was immediately named Classic FM’s Disc of the Month for May 2016. Fraser’s most recent recording with the ESO was Songs for Strings, recorded under Fraser’s baton in Abbey Road studios. That disc was Classic FM Disc of the Week when it was released, and chosen as Featured New Release on dozens of American radio networks.

Cellist Raphael Wallfisch is widely recognised as the world’s most recorded cellist, with a repertoire encompassing the full breadth of the cello repertoire and dozens of world premiere’s to his credit. A student of Piatigorsky, Wallfisch has been a regular partner with the ESO since the 1980’s.

Launched in the summer of 2020, the ESO’s Music from Wyastone series of virtual concerts aims to bring new and innovative work to audiences all over the world. Concerts are available for free for four days after the premiere, after which they are exclusively available to ESO donors through the ESO Digital membership programme. Other notable artists to feature in the series include actors Hugh Bonneville and Gemma Whelan, composers David Matthews and Adrian Williams and soloists Zoë Beyers and April Fredrick.



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