Kensington Hovercraft

Hovercraft [KSO commission: World premiere]
Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 6 December, 2004
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Here were three unlikely bedfellows, not the most obvious piece of programming, but it worked rather well. If a link needs to be found between the three pieces, maybe it was ‘catharsis’; obvious in the Strauss, Joby Talbot’s new piece is written ‘in memoriam’, and, in the Beethoven, it could be argued that the countryside is symbolically renewed ‘after the storm’.

Hovercraft was played twice, at the start of the concert and then repeated after the Strauss, a thoroughly sensible procedure as it is a short piece anyway and it deserves to be heard more than once. Given a second bite, the Kensington Symphony played it with even greater panache. Hovercraft is maybe best described as ‘John Adams meets Walton’, specifically the latter’s First Symphony. Scored for a large orchestra, its high-energy motoric rhythms and syncopation certainly made a splash, an engulfing tidal wave of sound. Aqueous subjects seem to appeal to Joby Talbot; Sneaker Wave was premiered at this year’s Proms, and a CD of his music connected to his Classic FM association will shortly be issued on BMG/Sony.

After Hovercraft, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration for once sounded almost tame, and Russell Keable gave such a graphic verbal account of the protagonist’s death throes that the musical reality didn’t seem half as bad. Under Keable’s clear beat this was a very decent performance. Heard from the front row in the relatively confined space of St John’s, the brass, set well back in the orchestral layout, was relatively reticent. Strauss would doubtless have approved as he always advised conductors to restrain the brass section! There were fine flute and violin solos from Mike Copperwhite and Alan Tuckwood respectively.

The Beethoven benefited greatly from antiphonal violins and was a straightforward performance with generally swift tempos, slightly too much so for ‘Peasants Merrymaking’. Incidentally, in the programme note (in politically correct Kensington & Chelsea), peasants no longer exist, the movement being described as ‘Merrymaking of the country folk’. Be that as it may, this was an appropriately bucolic performance, lacking in subtlety maybe but with an agreeably earthy feel.

The Kensington Symphony does much good work. In a world where professional bands play it safe too often, the KSO’s adventurous spirit is a cause for celebration.

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