Kensington Symphony Orchestra

The complete consort dancing together [World premiere]
The Rose Lake
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 November, 2005
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Continuing its ambitious celebratory 50th season, the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and Russell Keable appositely juxtaposed Tippett and Beethoven. Following the premiere of a short, bright-toned and fluttering ‘fanfare’ by Peter Nagle, one of the KSO’s cellists, Tippett’s The Rose Lake made a compelling impression – through the music itself (Tippett’s swansong) and through the expert preparation and dedicated performance of it. Over it’s 30-minute course, the KSO and Keable caught admirably the distant dance (without making it too explicit, rightly), the expressiveness, and the intense song of the Senegalese lake that the midday sun colours. Keable’s pacing and growth to the climax was masterly and properly mesmerising, the strings delivering with unforced eloquence. If, after this, the music seems less integrated, then this has more to do with Tippett’s episodic construction, however beguiling the invention and scoring. The concerto-for-orchestra aspects were very well taken by the various KSO soloists, and the percussion writing was deftly handled, not least by those on the rototoms, and the strings’ refrains towards the end (shaped with real artistry) reminded of Tippett’s Corelli Fantasia from forty years earlier.

Then to the Eroica, which just 24 hours earlier, I had heard from Bernard Haitink and the LSO (with that combination’s second performance coinciding with this one from the KSO!). Whereas Haitink led a honed, rather comfortable account, Keable brought more biting accents, with spacious tempos that carried a lyrical charge and a sense of occasion. If repeating the exposition, which Keable did, seems (now) to delay the arrival of the far-reaching development, there was an undoubted sense of direction, and a ratcheting-up and release of tension. The Funeral March was fully dug into for its potential, and, throughout, the opportunity to play this music was palpable, which shouldn’t suggest that it wasn’t equally so for the LSO.

Anyway, comparisons of concert performances are invidious. One could add that KSO tutti’s were a little shrill, that the trumpets were rather bright (if not too loud), that timpani could have been crisper and (sometimes) more of a feature, and that another double bass or two would have offered a firmer foundation. But the spirit was absolutely right – if the horns in the trio ‘fell off’ a couple of times, the players were immediately back on the saddle and carried on regardless; and Keable teased out something from the horns in the first movement to ‘private joke’ effect (broad smile from conductor). In short, this was a considered and exuberant Eroica of typical KSO distinction.

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