Kensington Symphony Orchestra at St John’s Smith Square – Russell Keable conducts The Perfect Fool, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances & Vaughan Williams’s Job

The Perfect Fool – Ballet Music
Symphonic Dances, Op.45
Vaughan Williams
Job: A Masque for Dancing

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 26 November, 2018
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Kensington Symphony OrchestraPhotograph: twitter @KensingtonSOThe Kensington Symphony Orchestra was at its largest for this generous and typically enterprising programme (requiring at some point a piano, two harps, alto saxophone, celesta and organ), Rachmaninov seeming rather a gooseberry in relation to the friends that were Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and – pertinent to your reviewer – the players and Russell Keable were up against definitive recordings, Ormandy’s of Symphonic Dances and Boult’s fourth and final taping of Job.

The Ballet Music that begins Holst’s opera The Perfect Fool opens with a trombone summons; not every note made it through and the double basses were not on equal tuning with their colleagues, but a good swagger was developed for ‘Earth’ and the ethereal ‘Water’ was sensitively shaped. ‘Fire’ was somewhat staid however, rather like attending an orgy and keeping your clothes on (not that I have ever been invited to one!).

In January 1941 Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra had the first word on Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, his swansong, and in 1960 they set down a benchmark recording (CBS/Sony). Keable respected the first movement’s Non allegro marking if playing down the music’s Slavic intensity, although the bittersweet middle section enjoyed Rob Lawrence’s eloquent contribution on sax, and other woodwind lines were nicely aligned, strings not so much soaring as emotionally meaningful, and Keable ensured the coda was heartfelt as Rachmaninov reminisces about something lost. Best here was the macabre waltz that is the central movement, a sort of haunted ballroom, but greater combustion was needed for the extensive Finale – Orthodox Chant meets the ‘Dies irae’ – although Keable went for the same abrupt cut-off on the ultimate chord, culminating this ride to the abyss, to follow Ormandy’s example (maybe coincidentally) rather than siding with those conductors who prefer the gong-stroke to linger to infinity.

Sir Adrian Boult was a celebrated champion of Vaughan Williams’s music and he recorded Job (one of VW’s great creations) four times (five now that a concert performance is on DVD), his final audio account (EMI/Warner), with a rampant LSO, being as good as it gets. In music that is beyond staging, and words, Keable ensured a wholesome approach that embraced VW’s Blake-inspired score, as dissonant as it is pastoral, as sublime as it is thrilling. The KSO may not be the LSO but there was a touching compassion in evidence to lyrical sway, a depth of feeling to imbue long-lined profundity, exhilaration for Satanic menace and nobility for God-like utterances, with the St John’s organ pressed into service, seismic, when the Devil usurps the Deity. Well-taken solos included saxophone wheedling, viola and cello cameos (carried forward from the Holst) and, most notably, Alan Tuckwood’s rapturous violin contribution in Scene VII (‘Elihu’s Dance of Youth and Beauty’), an Earth Core’s complement to The Lark Ascending, with the final tableau, musically turning full-circle – a time there was – unerringly judged. The KSO did well to programme Job – not heard in London I suspect since Sakari Oramo conducted it during BBC Proms 2014. Over forty-five minutes it was a job well done by Keable & Co.

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