Kensington Symphony Orchestra – Lutosławski & Mahler

Chantefleurs et Chantefables
Symphony No.4

Katherine Watson (soprano)

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 10 May, 2011
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Russell KeableIt was a great idea to programme the Lutosławski (settings of the children’s poems by Robert Desnos and their silly and surreal words) with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which ends with the innocent blasphemy of a child’s view of Heaven, where food is plentiful, and the saints are on hand to amuse with their activities. “Chantefleurs et Chantefables” (Song-flowers and Song-fables) is delicately scored, the music very descriptive of the nine songs’ subjects. In ‘La Belle-de-nuit’ (The Queen-of-the-night, and nothing like her showpiece aria from “Die Zauberflöte”!) the Kensington Symphony Orchestra showed how responsive it is to Russell Keable’s careful direction. ‘La Sauterelle’ (The Grasshopper) is very different, the musicians nimbly evoking this creature’s flickering tendencies. As a ‘carnival of animals’-type piece, Lutosławski’s descriptive music was ably realised by all the players, and Katherine Watson, in possession of a beautiful voice, brought life to the texts. Especially successful were the gentler songs, with ‘La Rose’ – meditative and scented music – hypnotically realised.

The Mahler received a mixed performance although it did have a really spontaneous feel and the playing of the strings was admirable. However, the opening two movements felt rushed (the second movement pushed forward and messily played), climaxes were arrived at early, with nothing left in reserve. With Mahler’s invocation not to rush ignored, the trajectory of the symphony (from experience to innocence) was lost. Matters were redeemed with the third movement; depths were plumbed and serenity was achieved, although the accompaniment for the finale lacked subtlety and Watson’s singing bordered on being operatic but the final stanza and closing bars were hushed and exquisite.

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