Sunday, 16 October 2011

Kensington Chamber Orchestra, St Peter's Notting Hill

Conductor Tom Seligman
The Kensington Chamber Orchestra, celebrating its 75th year, is an amateur ensemble playing half a dozen or so concerts a year to a high standard. You can tell this from the programming alone: whilst it's not atypical to find a group of enthusiastic part-time musicians programming Mendelssohn (Hebrides Overture) and Haydn (Symphony No. 97), less obvious were the two central works, Samuel Barber's Op. 14 Violin Concerto of 1940 and a new piece, a suite of three movements, called In Other Words, by the 26 year-old Danyal Dhondy.

The Hebrides, Op. 26 ('Fingal's Cave') is a restless showcase for the orchestra and showed well-blended strings throughout and reedy bite in the bassoons. The acoustic of the church favours the bottom end of the range; when it came to the concerto, soloist Lukas Medlam had a small balancing battle at first, but by the second movement he'd found the contralto swell in his instrument and the long melodic lines sung nicely. The lower strings had also found their groove by this stage, producing notably silky, homogenised tone. I was hugely impressed by the final movement, not only as it requires fine technique - Medlam was totally secure - but also as the conductor, Tom Seligman set off at just the right tempo to manage both the fizz and the folk-dance.

Danyal Dhondy's In Other Words (Rhapsodically - Largo - Con Fuoco) builds swells of colour and density in nicely organised structures. Reaching out with tentative woodwind ahead of broader sweeps across the orchestra, the music is composed very competently, seamless and satisfactory, evoking the internal rhythmic patterns of John Adams next to neoclassical woodwind asides. Finally, the Haydn symphony had the orchestra well warmed up and responding well to Seligman's gesture. The second Adagio movement of variations is a fine piece but the audience's favourite was the tipsy swagger of the Trio.

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