Kensington Symphony Orchestra/William Carslake – Elgar, Walton & Janáček

In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50
Symphony No.2

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
William Carslake

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 March, 2012
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Music director Russell Keable stood aside for this Kensington Symphony Orchestra concert (but was in attendance), the conducting honours falling to William Carslake for a particularly attractive collection of works. The Elgar was brightly coloured if blisteringly overloud, the latter maybe a consequence of the plush red curtains (normally closed) being drawn to accommodate the extra brass needed for the Janáček. Although the Elgar was gracefully conducted, expressively moulded, and played with purpose and panache, more lyrical leeway was possible and the martial episode was overly emphatic. Come the section with solo viola, the accompaniment lacked subtlety and the suggestion of night-time breezes.

Although it was very good news to have William Walton’s Second Symphony (1960) performed, Carslake’s interpretation of it left much to be desired, although the KSO played this super-virtuoso score with aplomb. Much of the Elgar had suggested that Carslake was not concerned about or even preferred the fierce sound being generated in this vibrant acoustic (although rarely did we get anywhere near a true pianissimo), but that does not excuse the vulgarly ear-splitting climax to Walton’s second movement, brass-fuelled and with over-the-top cymbals. Otherwise, Carslake took a hasty view of the first movement, losing its yearning lines and rhythmic shape (rhythm is so important to Walton’s music). Its climax aside, the slow movement was too restless. The finale’s passacaglia-based variations were rather sectionalised and exaggerated, if not without interest, although final majesty was turned into the pomp of a (third) coronation march – and sounded false – with the exhilarating coda only reaching an inert quarter-speed. Concert performances of Walton 2 are sadly rare but recordings by Szell, Previn, Thomson, Brabbins and Mackerras all confirm a masterpiece.

The Janáček was altogether better if not without some balance problems and phrasal literalness. But the five movements were generally well-paced and confidently played, the extra brass swelling the uplifting jubilation of the ending.

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