Johann Strauss II
Charivari – An Austrian Journal for orchestra
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
The Nutcracker – Act II
Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 29 November, 2010
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
Christmas came early from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra by including Act Two of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Arguably the even finer music is in Act One, but most of the Suite’s hits are in the second one (six numbers out of the eight), including the Sugar-Plum Fairy, such a delicate antithesis to the soulful and tumultuous ‘Pas de deux’. Russell Keable and his enthusiastic players did the music proud. The opening was solemnly processional if, as it turned out, just a little too spacious to sustain it – much loved but not smothering, though – and the ‘Divertissement’ national dances were well characterised. ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ had an agreeable lilt and was set in motion by a notable harp cadenza. Earthy-sounding woodwinds were appropriate to the music, as were the warmth of the strings. Russell Keable may have left too-long gaps between sections and he could have encouraged even quieter playing in what is an unrelenting acoustic, but there was no doubt of his admiration for this wonderful score and the musicians’ reciprocated enjoyment of it.
The first half had included another ‘magical’ piece, Paul Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which seems to be making a (deserved) comeback to concert-halls; it’s a masterly creation. The KSO and Keable gave an account of atmosphere and incident, graphic and cascading, with a requisite lolloping bassoon. Johann Strauss and HK Gruber came ‘as one’, the former’s capricious polka (here nicely pointed, instrumental solos relished) leading (following a fade and a fermata) into Gruber’s Charivari (1981, revised 1999). It packs a punch, unleashing a maelstrom of twentieth-century angst, not without irony though (and with some likeness to Malcolm Arnold’s music). Ives literally marches in, there’s the impending danger of Ravel’s La valse, the upheaval of Mahler 6, and the catastrophe of the ‘March’ from Berg’s Opus 6. A lot happens in eleven minutes and this performance – typical of the KSO’s enterprise – engaged throughout.