Kensington Symphony Orchestra is presently celebrating the
fiftieth anniversary of its founding by the conductor Leslie
Head. Since 1956 it has had only two conductors: the founder
and Russell Keable (since 1983). The KSO is an amateur/student
ensemble known both for its advocacy of modern works and for
reviving the music of neglected composers. Bax and Brian have
benefited most prominently from their efforts. Many works
unknown to Britain have also been introduced by the KSO.
present album only concerns the brass section of the KSO,
under the title ‘Kensington Symphonic Brass’. It comprises
eleven pieces both for the standard complement of four horns,
three trumpets, three trombones, tuba and percussion and works
requiring smaller numbers of instruments. The program is taken
from a live concert in 1994 and is arranged in two halves,
each beginning with a fanfare (Copland, Bliss) followed by
a funeral march (Britten, Grieg) and also includes four examples
of that universal brass form, the canzona. Several of the
pieces are ‘standards’ for symphonic brass, along with several
more obscure works.
disc starts with a rocky version of the ubiquitous Fanfare
for the Common Man, but picks up with what is the
best performance of Britten’s Russian Funeral that
I’ve heard. Britten to Glass would seem to be quite a jump,
but the Brass Sextet is
a piece that Glass wrote directly after finishing his studies
and sounds a lot more like Fanfare for the Common Man
than minimalism. This is followed by the previously mentioned
canzonas by Rubbra, Frescobaldi, Robert Simpson and Gabrieli.
The two 17th century pieces are ubiquitous among
brass players, but it must be said that the KSB do much better
with the slower and more recent Rubbra and Simpson than with
the earlier pieces, turning in a performance of the former’s
late Canzona for St. Cecilia that is ravishing and
also excelling in the better known Simpson work.
workout that the KSB received in the first half of their concert
does not immediately carry over to the second half. The fanfare
here is Sir Arthur Bliss’s Fanfare for a Coming of Age,
written for the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra in California, the hometown of Lady Bliss, where Sir Arthur had lived in the twenties.
The Kensington brass produces a rendition that is scrappy
and not at all cohesive, even though the piece is hardly more
than a minute long. It goes a long way to validate the idea
that Bliss fanfares do not reveal themselves if treated as
minor occasional pieces. By the way, this work was one of
the last the composer wrote, in 1973, and not 1937, as the
materials with the disc indicate.
is some good playing in the Grieg Funeral March for Richard
Nordraak that follows the Bliss and it receives an expressive
performance overall. The Grieg is followed by a Samuel Barber
rarity, Mutations from Bach which is based on the German
melody Christe, du Lamm Gottes
and alternate treatments by Bach and others.
piece was given a lacklustre performance by the London Gabrieli
Brass on Hyperion in 1999 and it is good to be able to say
that the KSB rendition is much more convincing and made me
look at the piece anew. The final work in the concert and
definitely the largest, is the Felicien David Nonetto in
C Minor, another pillar of the brass repertoire, and beside
La Perle de Brasil, the only survivor among the works
of a composer once among the most famous in France. The Nonetto is not exactly profound,
but it is spirited and very enjoyable. The KSB approach it
on that level, delivering a lovely performance and a fitting
close to their concert.
indicated above, this disc is a recording of a concert that
took place in 1994 and which recording was re-mastered only
the month before last. While there is some of the sound distraction
inevitable at live events, the estimable Jim Pattison of Dunelm
records has once again provided a recording of a live event
that approaches studio sound quality. The accompanying literature
is not too informative, but does let us know that three other
concerts by the Kensington Symphonic Brass are available from
Dunelm. This disc offers several unusual pieces as well as
standards, but the overall performance level is uneven. It
is worth buying if you want the Rubbra or the David.