Kensington Symphony Orchestra/Russell Keable – Lindberg & Schumann – Gina McCormack plays Prokofiev

Magnus Lindberg
Gran Duo
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.63
Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120 [Revised Version]

Gina McCormack (violin)

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 26 November, 2012
Venue: St John’s, Smith Square, London

There were no strings attached for the opening of this KSO concert. Magnus Lindberg’s Gran Duo (1999), first performed in March 2000 by members of the CBSO and Simon Rattle, calls for a large ensemble of woodwinds and brass. From the Stravinsky-like calls to the thrillingly edgy climaxes, Lindberg ‘duos’ the two groups but often interacts them, the ideas striking, the sounds sonorous and pungent, teasing the ear with fanfares, meditations and expressive freedom. These 20 minutes in its company were well-spent, and the performance under Russell Keable’s lucid direction was assured and outgoing. One sensed the players’ enjoyment.

The opening of the Prokofiev then offered the contrast of solo violin, the soloist unaccompanied for the opening bars, and then the first hearing of orchestral strings. Gina McCormack (a former leader of the KSO as well as a previous first violin of the Sorrel and Maggini quartets) gave a feisty account of the outer movements, with no lack of shape when required, and although a somewhat acerbic tone was no doubt deliberate, and appropriate, there were moments when her violin sounded a little flat in relation to the orchestra’s tuning. Her use of portamento was welcome, and the touching slow movement drew a nice line in sentiment, finding pathos and avoiding mawkishness. Throughout, the KSO’s accompaniment was vivid, and the finale danced with gnarly delight.

One imagines that this programme was put together with an eye on orchestration – the art of – for although Prokofiev’s economical scoring includes percussion (side and bass drums, triangle, suspended cymbal, even castanets), timpani are excluded, so their underpinning from the very opening of the Schumann was yet another ‘new’ timbre for this evening, trombones returned to the fold not having been needed for the concerto.

This was a performance of Schumann’s revision (the original is quite quirky) that was full of purpose; muscular and refulgent if at times a little harried. There was much thought and rigour in evidence – how the ‘Ziemlich langsam’ marking at the opening is mirrored in the second movement (Keable found a revelation here), for example – allowing the (continuous) work to unfold both organically and as a stream of consciousness. The scherzo was rhythmically pert, and immediately belonging to what had gone before. Arguably repeating the finale’s exposition gets in the way (although that in the first movement is essential), and greater dynamic variance would have been welcome, but this was an unusually cohesive reading, and if the demands on the string-players were a little too stretching, there was much enthusiasm sallying forth, nicely tempered by sensitivity and grandeur, and above all presented with winning spontaneity and generosity.

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