Eight Russian Folksongs, Op.58
Storr, Op.43 [London premiere]
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70
Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 24 June, 2013
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
The final concert this season from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra brought a reminder of its commitment to new as well as unfamiliar music (begun by its founder Leslie Head) with the London premiere of Storr, among the most recent works by Matthew Taylor (50 next year). Inspired by a visit to the rock formation which fairly dominates the Trotternish Peninsular on Skye, Storr (2011) feels less a travelogue than an embodiment of feelings evoked in the approach towards then climbing of the summit. Thus the slow though expectant opening section leads into a scherzo of deftly propelled energy, followed by an intermezzo-like part whose tangible atmosphere is intensified by a final fugue that draws the whole orchestra into a powerful clinching of the tonal and expressive argument – and which, in turn, subsides into an evocative leave-taking. Taylor has previously shown a sure handling of the large canvas in his Second Symphony, but the more intuitive (though never merely rhapsodic) conception of this piece has audibly encouraged a greater freedom in matters of orchestral detail and its integration into the ‘bigger picture’ – resulting in music which projects certainty of cohesion as convincingly as it realises a sense of place. A finely prepared and confidently executed performance by the KSO and Russell Keable further enhanced this impression.
Opening the concert was a welcome revival for Eight Russian Folksongs (1906) by Liadov. Famous for a Diaghilev commission that never materialised (if, indeed, it was offered in the first place), the composer’s select but vital corpus of orchestral miniatures seldom gets a look-in on concert programmes nowadays, yet this sequence is a varied and resourceful collection which ingeniously blurs the distinction between transcription and original composition. Keable secured a sensitive response from the KSO in music whose subtle detail needs handling with care, and one can only hope that he will schedule more pieces by this most reticent and fastidious among Russian nationalists.
After the interval, Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony (1885) and a reading that pulled no punches in its conveying the power and pathos of this most Classical of the cycle. The sombre opening of the first movement was a touch stolid rhythmically, but the performance soon hit its stride and developed a fine sense of momentum as it built to a gripping climax that did not pre-empt the resignation of the coda. Here and in the slow movement, Keable underlined the poise and inwardness that inform the music’s progress – allowing it to unfold on its own terms and not rushing the approach towards its brief yet elated climax. After this, the scherzo was given with due though not overt emphasis on its indelible rhythm, the trio section rendered with an easy eloquence that (rightly) did not dispel the prevailing agitation, then the finale – while not wholly avoiding blatancy in its early stages – evinced real cumulative momentum as it reached an apotheosis of sustained inevitability. A fine account, then, of a work all too easily taken for granted in the context of 19th-century symphonism.
A fine showing, too, for Keable and the KSO as they approach the 30th-anniversary of their partnership. Next season is to feature several ambitious undertakings (including symphonies by Berlioz, Bruckner, Lutosławski, Nielsen and Walton), as well as some less-familiar though highly rewarding pieces such as this always-adventurous orchestra has long championed.