Kensington Symphony Orchestra/Russell Keable at Milton Court – Berlioz, Tippett and Brahms

Berlioz
Béatrice et Bénédict – Overture
Tippett
Concerto for Double String Orchestra
Brahms
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 12 May, 2014
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Russell Keable. Photograph: Sim Canetty-ClarkeThe original programme of Rachmaninov, Debussy and Lutosławski (his Third Symphony) having subsequently been considered too much for the compact design of the Milton Court Concert Hall – and postponed until next season on 13 October at St John’s, Smith Square – this just-as-attractive gathering included an always-welcome appearance for Michael Tippett’s glorious Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1939). It must be the work’s technical demands that give it fewer outings than it deserves, for who could resist such exhilaration, beauty and ecstasy, while being smitten by Tippett’s indivisible melodic and rhythmic delights and bowled over by his contrapuntal mastery.

Russell Keable is clearly a fan, and the string-playing lads and lasses of the Kensington Symphony Orchestra showed equal commitment and focus. In music that is imbued with folksy song and dance, and with a wellspring of deep-seated emotion, but which is also insistent on totally exact ensemble and dead-on-the-note intonation, not everything in these respects was ideal, but such slippages not only underlined the arduous nature of the score for the performers but also the KSO’s determination to overcome such effort to give a rendition that enjoyed pace, soulfulness and rapture, and with well delineated interaction between the complementary orchestras.

The concert had opened with another miraculous piece, the bubbly and irrepressible Overture to Berlioz’s final opera, based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, music of character, nimbleness and pathos written with pin-point sophistication, here carefully traced with grace and purpose (aided by antiphonal violins) and alive to all the ingredients that make this composer’s creations so inimitable. After the interval, Brahms’s Fourth Symphony was given with absoluteness and attitude, its first movement flowing and also subtly flexible in pace – Keable Boult-like in his authority – the composer’s Apollonian command brought to the fore. In the Andante moderato Keable opted for purposeful tread that also enveloped expanse and ardour, followed by a view of the Allegro giocoso scherzo that was more heroic than jocular, and completed by a passacaglia finale, launched boldly, that allowed a seductive flute solo from Judith Jerome and which balanced well thrust and contemplation before dispatching the coda with severe determination, enough to recall Karajan’s opinion that, alongside Mahler 6 and Sibelius 4, Brahms’s ultimate Symphony is tragic in its illustration.

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