Die Walküre The Ride of the Valkyries
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Richard Rodney Bennett
Murder on the Orient Express Waltz
The Godfather Main title
Symphony No.5 Adagietto
Stars Wars Suite
Warren Mailley-Smith (piano)
Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 17 January, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
It’s just possible that your reviewer could have put the kibosh on this concert’s encore! As Russell Keable was introducing it a mobile-phone rang; its owner responded, “I can’t talk now…”. This was actually a stunt; indeed it was an Oscar-winning performance from the unnamed bloke sitting directly in front of me. Fortunately I didn’t intervene (although I have zero-tolerance for misbehaving audience-members) and ‘Mr X’ was able to take his place with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, after some banter with Keable, for a rendition of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”.
But, then, this had been, for the most part, a genuinely enjoyable concert, one displaying the versatility of the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, and one which instilled a sense of well-being; so much so that your reviewer refrained from asking the irritating getting-on-in-years couple, also just in front, to stop their incessant chatter (someone in front of them did but it made no difference); Basil Fawlty would have termed this pair “ignorant”, and he’d be right … and what of the person who opened a sweet in the quietest part of the Mahler?
Moving on … this was a good concert, save for the concerto performance, which was a lacklustre, indecisive rendition of the ‘Emperor’ that presumably found Warren Mailley-Smith below par (I’ve not heard him before); he had little to say about this familiar work, and his interpretative and technical uncertainties suggested ‘work in progress’. With tempos consistently rushed, the KSO given little time to shape the music meaningfully, it was difficult to tell if there was any agreement, let alone rapport, between conductor and soloist; Mailley-Smith, seemingly nervous and lacking any real character, was without compensatory insights to rescue this disappointing account.
Otherwise, the performances had the sort of well-prepared commitment that is a KSO hallmark in this concert of classics used in films and original film-scores that have become classics. We were taken back to the ‘seventies. The Wagner, here a well proportioned, well-balanced account that allowed strings and winds to be heard, was featured in “Apocalypse Now”. The Mahler excerpt, of course, took on a life of its own in “Death in Venice”. Keable gave an object lesson in how to conduct this music – his flowing, circa 8-minute account felt just about right for this ‘love letter’ and found the KSO’s strings in unforced and collectively heartfelt form. It would be good to hear Keable conduct Mahler 5 complete; his conception of the Adagietto is just about perfect within the context of the symphony.
The ‘Emperor’, by the way, was used in two 1970s’ films, “Slaughterhouse-Five” (sic) and “Picnic at Hanging Rock”. The rest of this concert’s music are original film-scores, although just how original in John Williams’s case is a moot point when Walton is a clear starting-point for both “Superman” and “Star Wars” and Vaughan Williams is not far away in the ‘colder’ parts of the latter (i.e. his score for “Scott of the Antarctic” aka Sinfonia antartica (sic); VW misspelled antartica!). Still, there’s no doubting the effectiveness of both of Williams’s scores, and they were done justice by the KSO and Keable’s well-paced and thought-through conducting, which brought an infectious lilt to Richard Rodney Bennett’s “Orient Express” waltz and something altogether graver for Nino Rota’s haunting music for “The Godfather”. Mr Keable might like to look at Rota’s Third Symphony.
The real meat of the KSO’s current season is still to come – symphonies by Bruckner, Vaughan Williams, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky; all much looked-forward to.