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Saturday, September 27, 2008


Boris Kerimov steps in at a few days’ notice and triumphs in Lalo’s Cello Concerto. (Review by Michael Green)

A sparse audience attended this Durban City Hall concert, at which the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra presented three works by relatively little performed French composers of the nineteenth century.

The visiting French composer Francois-Xavier Roth is obviously an admirer of Cesar Franck, Edouard Lalo and Ernest Chausson --- he spoke from the platform more than once to comment on their virtues --- but, alas, his enthusiasm did not seem to be shared by Durban concert-goers.

Artistically the concert was without question a success, and it was a triumph for the orchestra’s principal cellist, Boris Kerimov. It sounds hardly believable, but the scheduled soloist in Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor, Tatjana Vassiljeva, from Russia, could not get a South African visa in time for her Durban engagement. She is a widely-travelled musician and one would have thought that she or her agent would have sorted out the red tape well ahead of the appointed time.

Whatever the reasons, she cancelled at the last minute and Boris Kerimov (who is himself originally from Siberia) stepped into the breach at a few days’ notice. In these awkward circumstances he gave a convincing and eloquent account of Lalo’s difficult and demanding work, which runs for about 25 minutes. This is an impressive composition, one of only two by Lalo (1823-1892) which are still regularly played, the other being his Symphonie espagnole. The cello role is forceful, with many solo passages that expose the player to public scrutiny. Boris Kerimov met all these challenges successfully, and was at his best in the unusual and varied slow movement, especially in his lively dialogue with the woodwind instruments.

The audience recognised his achievement and gave him warm applause as the conductor embraced him at the end. And the presentation of a flower from the KZNPO was made by his wife Elena, who is a senior violinist in the orchestra.

Cesar Franck (1822-1890) is another composer whose reputation rests mainly on a slender sheaf of works: the Symphony in D minor, Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra, the A major violin sonata, a piano quintet, that’s about it. His Le Chasseur Maudit (the accursed huntsman), written in 1883, must have been an eye- (and ear-) opener for the Durban audience. It is a symphonic poem based on a lurid tale of the supernatural, and it is as brilliantly scored (and noisy) a piece as one is likely to hear in the concert hall, with resounding blasts from the brass and the percussion. It was very well played and, I think, much appreciated by the audience.

The final item on the programme was the Symphony in F flat major by Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), who was one of Cesar Franck’s pupils. An expressive work by an elegant composer. - Michael Green