The Stations of the Sun
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100
Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 15 October, 2007
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
Now in its 52nd season, the Kensington Symphony Orchestra continues to press ahead with thoughtful programming under the direction of Russell Keable, who has conducted the orchestra for 25 years.
As is the KSO tradition the concert began with a flourish and re-visited a commission from Joby Talbot, his exuberant Hovercraft, an opener to blow away the cobwebs with its beefy bass lines rising from the depths, with shrill outcries from brass choirs towards the end. The piece comes across as a more mechanical update of the fast music from Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ (The Planets), updated with themes not out of place in pop music. It packed an impressive punch here.
Julian Anderson was on hand to help Keable introduce The Stations of the Sun, the work that brought him to a wider audience when first heard at the 1998 Proms. This was a carefully thought out interpretation, the structure perfectly aligned as we progressed through the four stations.
An urgent first section was rhythmically nimble also, capturing the dance elements of Anderson’s writing, horns and pizzicato cellos vividly evoking steel pans. The tricky unison violin statement of the initially slow plainsong theme grew with assurance as it gathered speed, all the while headed towards the fierce, ringing climax spearheaded by bells and percussion. From this, Keable brought home the finish as the composer intended, essentially an up-beat to his next piece. The composer seemed justifiably thrilled by the performance.
There followed a successful interpretation of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, though here the technical aspects of the performance were not quite as secure and ensemble lagged at times. The Fifth has become a staple of the symphonic repertoire, but suffers in that it is often misunderstood, for underneath the often bright and breezy surface trouble often lurks.
Keable’s detailed examination found this out, though the first movement, despite an impressive depth of sound, sped up a little too much for its big summation. The edgy scherzo was only briefly abated by the brightly coloured trio, a distinct chill descending for the gradual acceleration away from it, expertly paced by the conductor. This frosty element returned with the dissonant clashes of the slow movement climax, the Adagio initially slow but ideal in phrase. After this the triumphalism of the finale had a hollow ring, the nagging motifs on the edges impinging on the brightly-lit flute melodies. The rush to the finish was convincingly done, allowing us to see “the ghost in the machine”.