Siegfried – Forest Murmurs
Symphony No.4 (The Inextinguishable)
Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 21 June, 2010
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
The Kensington Symphony Orchestra closed its current season with an appealing, imaginative and instructive combination of music – naturalistic, life-enhancing. No easy programme to rehearse, and often with no hiding place for these very-professional amateur musicians, Russell Keable’s lucid conducting technique and his clear-sighted interpretations ensured that each work emerged whole and satisfying.
Although some quieter playing would not have gone amiss, especially in the immediate and swelling acoustic of St John’s, the snippet from “Siegfried” (the third instalment of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ tetralogy) balanced reptilian lower strings with evolving glow, a radiance that grew to rhythmic exhilaration.
From the forest to the unholy landscape of Sibelius’s Tapiola, one of the great masterworks of music, in which Keable and the KSO gave a direct, symphonic account (somewhat in the mould of Anthony Collins), less concerned with signposting elemental upheavals and with presenting something strange and foreboding, but certainly modulating magically for the coda and emphasising that Tapiola is as much a symphony as a tone poem. This is merciless music on those prepared to play it; notwithstanding some string-playing that was less than clean or in-tune, this was a laudable performance, aided by Keable’s surety of always knowing where this music is going, and why.
After the interval, Malcolm Arnold’s Larch Trees (1943) continued the Sibelian mood, music clearly indebted to Tapiola in its opening measures (both in terms of invention and scoring); indeed it can only be a deliberate crib. Having persuaded the London Philharmonic to run-through Larch Trees at the time of composition (Arnold was then a member of the orchestra, as a trumpeter), the composer left the piece alone, its first public performance being in1984. The Sibelian likeness is the principal interest in Larch Trees; there are though Arnoldian fingerprints – brushes of string sound and a few whimsical touches – yet, even over seven minutes, the piece seems disconnected and without too much that stays in the mind.
Lack of continuity is not a charge to be levelled at Carl Nielsen’s First World War Symphony No.4, an inexhaustible masterpiece of powerful, strong-chained evolution, all about life and music being indivisible (it is!) and the indomitable spirit of the human race. It is also musically compelling, no narrative-description needed for a symphony that is as musically potent and arresting as this one is. Keable and the KSO gave an unvarnished and bracing account, sensitively turned when required and often with unstinting intensity. If there was the odd blemish in execution, it counted for little give the conviction of the playing and the absoluteness of the music. True, in what counts as the finale (this is a symphony that is cast in one big movement) the two timpanists were too recessed and perhaps not far enough apart for the combativeness needed and the coda was a little pushed-through to really assert the composer’s defiance. Yet, the spirit of the score was unerringly presented and was a credit to all concerned.
The KSO and Russell Keable open their 2010-11 Season in October (at St John’s) with music from Thomas Adès’s “Powder Her Face” and an intriguing combination of English symphonies, David Matthews’s recent Seventh and the Second of Elgar.