Carl Nielsen and Malcolm Arnold might not be the most obvious coupling, but this final concert in the Kensington Symphony Orchestra’s sixtieth season saw two of the Dane’s most distinctive later works framing a rarely-revived ballet written during the British composer’s most productive decade.
Warmly received at its premiere by The Royal Ballet, Rinaldo and Armida (1954) depicts the brief yet passionate liaison between those eponymous characters related in Torquato Tasso’s influential verse-drama. Following an atmospheric introduction, the opening minutes define the main protagonists in terms recalling Constant Lambert in their halting unease, the cumulative ‘pas de deux’ that follows underlining Arnold’s melodic facility. The storm which rounds off the sequence is a little peremptory, while much of the best material found its way into later concert works (notably the Fifth Symphony), but the score amply suggests Arnold had a full-length stage-work in him had circumstances been more propitious. The KSO responded ably to its emotional surges, such as Russell Keable wrought into a focussed and cohesive whole.
Save for the First, the KSO has now given all of Nielsen’s Symphonies and its account of the Sixth (1925) confirmed the Orchestra’s identity with this most recalcitrant yet also provocative of the cycle. Keable had the measure of this singular piece – not least the opening movement which, in its frequently stark pivoting between innocence and experience, exudes formal and expressive implications still to be explored. If the latter three movements seemed less convincing, it is worth remembering that for many years these were regarded as failures even by Nielsen’s admirers. Not that the ‘Humoreske’ was other than disruptive in its lunging gestures, the ‘Proposta seria’ arresting in its highly distracted threnody, or the ‘Tema con variazioni’ compulsive in its fractious opening-out of that blithely ironic theme towards an uproarious denouement. Lacking was a sense of their building on what went before so the work becomes a tangible unity, however oblique that may seem. Those hearing Nielsen 6 for the first time, however, could not fail to have been gripped by its imaginative and emotional depths.
Although Nielsen never completed another Symphony he certainly began one – the mesmeric opening of which found a very different context within An Imaginary Journey to the Faroe Islands (1927). The KSO sustained this superbly, while Keable ensured the juxtaposition of hymnal song and boisterous dance never skirted bathos. Nielsen didn’t lack for ideas even in occasional music, and this increasingly familiar work launched what was a typically resourceful programme in winning fashion.
- KSO 2017-18 season begins on October 9
- Kensington SO