Kensington Symphony Orchestra

Der Rosenkavalier – Suite
Symphonic Metamorphoses after Themes by Carlo Maria von Weber
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77

Matthew Trusler (violin)

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Dominic Wheeler

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 10 March, 2007
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

The Kensington Symphony Orchestra (consisting of highly competent non-professionals) is into its 51st-season. It reaches an exceptionally high standard of performance in works that are invariably exacting. In place of music director Russell Keable, Dominic Wheeler was the guest conductor.

We began in Vienna. The Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier”, devised in 1945 and approved by Richard Strauss, draws on the opera as a whole. The waltzes figure largely, of course, but we do, for example, also have the ‘Presentation of the Rose’ and the concluding ‘Duet’ between Octavian and Sophie – including that deliciously sedate, mocking from the celesta.

The great test here is how the orchestra responds to things Viennese. The musicians triumphed. It was clear that they had rehearsed profitably – producing surging, silken string tone reminiscent, distinguishing between the full-orchestra waltz and the quasi-solo dance with light orchestral backing. The endings were often a delight – throwaway phrases, devil-may-care finishes.

The Hindemith made a tart contrast. The last-minute decision to play the pieces in this order was a shrewd move. This four-movement piece makes angular twists and distortions of Weber’s original piano pieces. In places, Hindemith allows himself to roar quite uninhibitedly. In other places, his tongue sits easily inside his cheek. Oriental moments clatter from all manner of percussive paraphernalia with cheerfully topsy-turvy aplomb and the jazz combo moments were delightful visitors from another world across the sea. The Kensington Symphony rose to all these demands. The players in the quieter moments and the exuberant volume of their climaxes were most impressive.

Where to next, after all this joyous noise?

Dominic Wheeler had a ravishing surprise up his sleeve. He and Matthew Trusler gave us, splendidly, some poised classical Brahms. Two comparisons came to mind – both illuminating and both unexpected. Firstly, I recalled the composure of Brahms’s much later Clarinet Quintet – with rough edges but eminently civilised, bordering on the sublime, lofty rather than scrabbling in the thick of it. Next, I recalled Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The Wheeler/Trusler performance was resolutely in D major! Equally, remembering several comments on Brahms’s fear of being seen as competitively not Beethoven’s equal, I revelled in the breeding of Trusler’s performance, suggesting that, here, Brahms had produced what was pretty damn near Beethoven’s sibling. Even the Allegro giocoso finale had sufficient grace to recall that in Beethoven’s counterpart.

Speeds were steady, fitting the classical concept. The choice was astute, for it gave the Kensington Symphony Orchestra its chance. With nothing rushed, the players had time and space to do full justice to their parts. Chords crashed into the air with majestic effect. The strings soared lyrically and effortlessly; pizzicatos were piquant treats. The woodwinds could coo happily. The brass, almost always, was as smooth as a lamb; time and again, the timpanist made Brahms’s point, economically and effectively.

This performance made its mark. This magnificent Brahms gave a ringing and true conclusion to a memorable evening.

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