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Saturday, November 8, 2008


(Pic: Ian Brown)

Memorable evening for a big and enthusiastic audience. (Review by Michael Green)

Beethoven, Brahms, three gifted soloists, a new conductor and the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in fine form provided a memorable evening for a big and enthusiastic audience in the Durban City Hall.

The conductor, Ian Brown from England, was making his first appearance here and he immediately created a favourable impression with his crisp handling of Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture. A firm beat and a kind of controlled excitement seem to be the features of his conducting style, and he obtained good results throughout the evening.

Durban is fortunate in having been able to hear in the past week a team of three really distinguished instrumentalists: Peter Bruns (cello), Kai Vogler (violin) and Ben Schoeman (piano), the first two from Germany, the third a South African. Their top-class recital for the Friends of Music was followed by their appearance in this KZNPO concert in Brahms’s Double Concerto for violin and cello and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto for violin, cello and piano.

These works are not played very often for the obvious reason that they require more than one soloist. Here we had three of rare ability. The Brahms concerto gives both soloists the opportunity to display their skills at the outset, with long solo passages for the cello and the violin, followed by a duologue between the two. The playing was superb. Peter Bruns produced the golden tone he had shown in the earlier recital, and Kai Vogler gave us some of the best violin playing we have heard in the City Hall for a long time, poised and accurate, with a mellow sweetness.

The Beethoven triple is a lovely concerto, dating from 1803, and it was played here with a kind of loving tender care. Ben Schoeman, a highly accomplished pianist, played with just the right degree of assertiveness, and indeed the balance between the three soloists was well-judged throughout.

There was nothing finer in the concert that the slow, steady pulse of the largo of the Beethoven concerto. If my memory is correct, this music was used nearly 40 years ago by Kenneth Clarke in his famous television series Civilisation to introduce the programme called The Smile of Reason, about the eighteenth century age of enlightenment in Europe. That is exactly the feeling conveyed by the music: enlightenment, civilisation, that plus, for me, a strong sense of nostalgia. We live in a changing world, with changing values, but there is still much to be gained from the old Europe of the past, as this programme and these players amply demonstrated. - Michael Green

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