Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 11 May, 2009
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
Now coming towards the end of its fifty-third season (the closing concert this-time-round is on 23 June, also at St John’s) the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and Russell Keable here performed Mahler’s last completed symphony with keenness and commitment, the players once again belying their amateur status.
Tempos were uncommonly well judged throughout, illuminating episodes yet binding them into a whole. For the first movement, arguably Mahler’s greatest single achievement, Keable found a pace for the opening paragraph that had definite tread (Andante) and was also flexibly expressive (comodo), conductor and orchestra alive to the music’s many changes of mood yet keeping a line across the movement’s (here) 30-minute duration. Attention to detail was scrupulous (not least the bell-plates, rather than the tubular variety, which gave a baleful, funereal timbre) and a particular mention for the solo flute- and horn-playing (respectively Mike Copperwhite and Jon Boswell) should not detract from the KSO’s achievement as a whole.
In the first of the middle movements, Keable caught the gallumphing peasant-like dance of the Ländler before blowing it away wildly and roughing up the textures, the music exploding to the raucous and imploding to more sedate measures. The conductor made no concessions to his players in the third-movement ‘Rondo-Burleske’, a swift, incisive traversal striding impersonally and reminding of Mahler’s contrapuntal gifts; Keable integrated the lyrical centre, leaning just enough on its expressive heart to touch nerves. The only miscalculation was the virtually inaudible side drum in the coda – on its only appearance in this work (but not because of that) it should surely tear militaristically into the surrounding texture.
If at times Keable had presented the first-movement Andante as more of an adagio, he made the final Adagio more of an andante (a strategy also favoured by Bruno Maderna). It worked well and enjoyed some particularly ardent playing from the strings (violins antiphonal), and with tart-sounding bassoon and fruity-toned horn contributions, this was a (20-minute) finale neither solemnised nor somnambulant, making the music strive to the heights and transcend conflicts until the final turn to nothingness, here brought off without fuss but with meaning … and to a long silence.
This was an insightful, devoted and memorable performance.