The Kensington Symphony Orchestra is one of London’s most enterprising ensembles, and while this programme revealed little sense of adventure there was no small degree of ambition in coupling Stravinsky’s nowhere-to-hide Violin Concerto with Schubert’s epic symphonic journey.
We have become used to hearing lean and athletic performances of Schubert ‘Great C-major’ Symphony (Mackerras and Norrington spring to mind) and Russell Keable’s expansive account, all repeats observed (a departure from ten years ago), inclined towards light textures, togetherness and near-faultless intonation. Two smooth horns set in motion a measured introduction, stately without being pedestrian, then with a gripping first tutti that brought brass to the fore. Keable later enabled the music’s restless ebb and flow to unfold with ease – judging climaxes to perfection within an accumulating tension – and drew elegant detail from the woodwinds. One might have wished for a wider dynamic range and more incisive rhythms in the second movement Andante con moto, but there was much to enjoy from Chris Astles’s oboe contributions, and a gratifying central passage to which the players responded eagerly to its lyricism. The Scherzo was disciplined, not quite fizzing with energy but with enough fire to generate periodic excitement – especially convincing in red-blooded unison passages. The violin lines could have been more lustrous and singing, yet any shortcomings were soon remedied in the magnificently spirited Finale – taut and alert, underlining the drama of the music’s endless vistas, and with no lack of stamina to deal with the relentless writing, the whole span propelled by Keable’s invigorating gestures to fashion an assured and life-affirming account.
Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto (1931) – written for Samuel Dushkin – is scored with multitudinous wind sonorities, which both support the soloist and act as a foil. Balance can be problematic. Here everything coalesced remarkably well, the interplay between individuals and groups was sure-footed, a good demonstration of KSO’s excellence, complementing Fenella Humphreys who embraced the Concerto with vigour and authority, on occasion bringing to it an intensity that robbed the music of its playfulness. Not using copy might have produced a greater sense of liberation, but there’s no doubting her commanding technique and security of pitch, if not the most yielding tone, which would have brought dividends to ‘Aria II’. The opening ‘Toccata ‘, if a little restrained, was nicely controlled in respect of its dialogues, and in ‘Aria I’ the orchestral strings were impressive. The closing ‘Capriccio’ was dashing, always with a sense of meticulous preparation.