KSO Variations

Kensington Fanfare [World premiere]
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell), Op.34
Hugh Wood
Variations for Orchestra, Op.39
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Alan Pickering

Reviewed: 24 June, 2006
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

The Kensington Symphony Orchestra’s reputation for choosing adventurous repertoire – which is always welcome – and making enticing programmes had preceded my first opportunity to listen to the ensemble. I hope it will not be my last.

The KSO’s quality of performance is undoubtedly down in no small measure to its long-time conductor, Russell Keable, the musicians responding with excellence. The concert opened with the first performance of John Woolrich’s Kensington Fanfare, a short and strident piece with an American feel – echoes of Aaron Copland and even stronger references to William Schuman; it was well played with, in particular, woodwinds and brass combining well.

Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra followed, which was competently performed – although here the brass was rather loud and the strings seemed a bit sluggish at the beginning, violas and cellos blossoming come their variations and with some characterful contributions from woodwind soloists, and the percussion was excellent. The Fugue (which puts the orchestra back together) was done with vital dash and with impressive sonority when Purcell’s ‘Abdelazer’ tune returns to crown Britten’s ingenious work.

Hugh Wood was present to hear his Variations for Orchestra (completed in 1997), and the orchestra did not let him down with a splendidly seamless and energetic performance. Wood uses the various instrumental groups to provide variety across the compact, meticulously organised but wide-ranging whole; the KSO was in its element and showed the strength and depth of its playing.

A sparkling rendition of Elgar’s Enigma Variations concluded the concert. It was a stirring performance, overall, and included some notable solo contributions, not least from the principal clarinet and cello. Russell Keable saw the work whole, each variation given its own due and also its place in the greater scheme of things. An organic performance, then, with ‘Nimrod’ flowing emotionally rather than being a stand-alone memorial. A shame that the St John’s organ wasn’t utilised for the closing pages (ad lib it may be, but such foundation is missed), but there was much to admire in this unindulgent, perceptive and dedicated account.

The KSO’s 51st season is keenly anticipated and kicks-off in the Barbican on 18 October with music by Korngold, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.

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