Symphony No.7 in E [Robert Haas Edition]
Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 4 May, 2005
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
Here was a splendid case of ‘less is more’: just one work in a relatively swift performance (62 minutes) that proved sufficient and satisfying. The Kensington Symphony, nearing its 50th-birthday, is an excellent example of how student and amateur musicians can come together and do something worthwhile – not only for themselves but for the audience, too. This Bruckner 7 was a thoroughly fine achievement in which the odd glitch was meaningless when set against the commitment and understanding displayed by the musicians.
It helps that Russell Keable is the KSO’s long-standing conductor. This easeful and industrious partnership was at its best in this thoughtful and whole-viewed account of, maybe, Bruckner’s most popular symphony. Keable’s lucid conducting style, his appreciation of musical architecture and his deeply-felt but never overstated musicianship, came into its own here: this was Bruckner conducting of a high order, not least for marrying eloquence and journey.
How well the tremolando strings caught the air at the opening, and how immediately intense and flowing were the cellos and horns in the first theme, and how telling were the dynamics. The entire performance encapsulated in the opening bars. What was particularly impressive was Keable’s understanding of this music as a ‘real’ symphony; Bruckner doesn’t need to be treated as a religious zealot or the purveyor of ‘magic moments’; indeed, what emerged here was a composer of impeccable architectonics – distinctive musical invention securely developed and inexorable, and with a directness of communication that targets the head and heart in judicious balance to bring something indefinable but momentous.
In the first movement there were many arresting features, not least when the timpani first enters (quite late in the movement), and the whole of the Allegro moderato (treated by Keable as a ‘genuine’ first movement Allegro) had an underlying logic. The Adagio was superbly done, with great dignity and an enveloping of sections that allowed a compelling flux of consummation and flashback. Rightly, come the climax, Keable did without any percussion – seemingly because Günter Wand also did so: in fact, this is as Robert Haas published the symphony. The emotional fallout lamenting Wagner’s death (which occurred while Bruckner worked on the movement’s closing stages) was graphic but without over-spill, and the Wagner tubas were excellent, here and throughout.
Both the scherzo and finale were propelled along, the former with real swing, and nicely contrasted with a languorous but not laid-back trio, and the finale properly resolved the symphony without pomp yet distilled contrasts and majesty with a sure hand.
The odd tuning discrepancy aside, the strings played with warmth and unanimity (violins were appositely antiphonal), and the woodwinds contributed some characterful solos (flute and oboe, especially) and made a well-balanced consort. If the trumpets were overloud and piercing, this was a small deficiency.
Overall, then, the KSO can be proud of this concert, which shone vividly in the Bruckner-equitable acoustic of St John’s. Next up, symphonies by Sibelius (No.6) and Tchaikovsky (No.5), on 28 June.