Kensington Symphony Orchestra 50th-Anniversary Concert

The Sea Hawk [Suite arr. Keable]
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Alexander Nevsky – Cantata

Nikolai Demidenko (piano)

Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano)

London Oriana Choir

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 18 October, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

For its Fiftieth Anniversary concert the Kensington Symphony Orchestra was rewarded with a sell-out audience in the Barbican Hall – a deserved accolade.

The cantata that Prokofiev derived from his score for Eisenstein’s film “Alexander Nevsky” has concluded the concert with a formidable battery of percussion, Russell Keable coaxing every last effort out of his players and the hundred-strong London Oriana Choir. This was a dramatic performance, right from the distinctively scored, earthy orchestral opening to the steady tread of the crusaders in Pskov. And while the choir’s exultation to ‘arise to arms’ might have been even more uplifting than it was, there was a nobility to the broad melody for female chorus that followed, as the words “in our native Russia no foe shall live” were sung. ‘The Battle on the Ice’, had been full of chilly tension, the momentum growing inexorably until a noticeable gear shift led to the soaring, slower theme.

The odd brass uncertainty aside, this was a dynamic performance that impressively paid attention to detail, not least the off-stage oboist in the opening movement. Jean Rigby lent considerable weight to a tricky navigation of the lower registers in ‘The Field of the Dead’, her closing sentiments beautifully sung to a fluid string accompaniment.

In a concert pushing cinematic themes, the opener was straight out of Hollywood – Errol Flynn starring – and Korngold specialist Keable had been there to research “The Sea Hawk”, adjusting the existing suite to include a choral part that may well have been a ‘concert first’ in the UK.

The colourful suite was affectionately played, the percussion section enjoying its ghostly rattling in the Panamanian jungle, while the chorus leapt forward to ‘strike for the shores of Dover’, one of many memorable themes from the film.

The concerto, too, has cinematic pedigree, thanks to its use in David Lean’s “Brief Encounter”. Here Nikolai Demidenko’s Fazioli piano brought a distinct clarity to the solo part, which he threw off with considerable flair. Getting ahead of the violins in the first movement, he seemed anxious to push the Moderato to a faster tempo, but Keable ensured the two stayed together. The violins’ rendering of the broad theme was perfectly drilled, though when that theme returned the piano physically shook as Demidenko battled with a full orchestral fortissimo. His playing has softened noticeably over the years, however, and though the Adagio may have been a touch quicker than normal, his lightness of touch was a feature of the genuinely faster music. There were brilliant flashes in the finale, the orchestra immaculately prepared and passionately conducted by Keable.

A fitting summation, then, the fifty-year anniversary of one of Britain’s leading amateur orchestras marked in some style.

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