CD Review: Gramophone Magazine on English String Orchestra, “Wall of Water” by Deborah Pritchard

From the May 2015 issue of Gramophone Magazine


Violin Concerto, “Wall of Water”

Harriet Mackenzie vn  English String Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Nimbus Alliance (S) CD NI1555 (21’ . DDD

Every now and then, a new work comes along that simply takes one’s breath away. The Violin Concerto Wall of Water (2014) by Deborah Pritchard is one such. Composed last year “in response to the paintings by Maggi Hambling”—a sequence of at the time 13 paintings inspired by the Suffolk coast—the concerto is scored for a chamber group of 13 strings only: the soloist plus seven orchestral violinists, pairs of violas and cellos and a double-bass.

Despite the modest forces employed, the concerto is ablaze with colour across its twenty-one minutes, mirroring the transitions of colours in the Hambling paintings, with muted tones and colour ranges in the outer sections (corresponding roughly to paintings I-III and XII-XIII) enclosing a richer and more varied palette for paintings IV-XI, the whole framed by an opening solo violin cadenza and its varied reprise emerging from and returning to the darkness. (In live performance, the concerto can be accompanied by a synchronised video display of the Hambling paintings, but the music stands supremely well by itself.)

Wall of Water was written for Harriet Mackenzie (one member of the superb Retorica Duo, 2/13, 4/13), who plays this alternately elegiac and passionate music with a burning commitment and intensity that composers usually only dream of, but then she has been gifted a work whose high quality is rarely encountered. This is a wonderful performance of a wonderful concerto, completed by immaculate accompaniment from the English String Orchestra directed by the tireless Kenneth Woods. Very, very strongly recommended.

Guy Rickards


Gramophone Wall of Water Review

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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