Dances from ‘Powder Her Face’
Symphony No.7, Op.109 [London premiere]
Symphony No.2 in E flat, Op.63
Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 19 October, 2010
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
The Kensington Symphony Orchestra opened its fifty-fifth season with a full-orchestra potpourri from Thomas Adès’s chamber-opera “Powder Her Face” (scandal in the upper echelons, particularly focussing on Margaret, Duchess of Argyll), music that is riotous, sexy, edgy and obsessive, the KSO cavorting with confidence, enjoying its time on the wild side.
The London premiere of David Matthews’s Symphony No.7 was welcome so soon after its unveiling in Manchester in April. The latest of Matthews’s symphonies, cast as a single movement of around 20 minutes, and beginning in C, stands the inevitable comparison with Sibelius and his Seventh. There’s a depth and beauty to the opening of Matthews’s piece, with references both attractive and elusive. Occasionally Holst seems a part of the soundworld, particularly in the luminous scoring. The opening attractiveness gives way to energy and scintillation, and if the timpani outburst seems overly-protracted, the filmic sweep of the score is impressive – kaleidoscopic and sonorous – and this singular achievement is one to hear again. The composer seemed delighted with the performance.
In both the Adès and the Matthews, the KSO had been on top form, a high level of preparation evident. Elgar’s Second Symphony was given a valiant performance, but suffered at times from suspect tuning and smudgy ensemble. Brass could be overloud, too, and not everything reached the ear with ideal clarity. That said, Russell Keable had full grasp of this complex work, inspiring a thrilling impetuosity to the first movement and conjuring a sombre and moving elegy from the slow one. Such pioneering fervour was lost a little in a the scherzo, its emerging demonism sapped at too deliberate a tempo, but the finale emerged as a disrupted and varied processional to a troubled if accepting conclusion.