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Friday, November 7, 2008


Friends of Music host excellent concert. (Review by Michael Green)

There was a gratifyingly large audience for this chamber concert at the Durban Jewish Centre. And many of the faces were unfamiliar, which is also gratifying. We need strong attendances and new blood if good music is to survive and flourish in Durban.

The concert itself was excellent. The Moritzburg Festival Trio consists of two German players, Peter Bruns (cello) and Kai Vogler (violin), and a South African, Ben Schoeman (piano). All three are top-class performers. As important, they have a superb understanding of the co-operative needs of chamber music, each playing in sympathy with the others.

The result was music-making of rare quality. The admirable choice of programme also helped. No fancy novelties here, just three well-known and much admired works from Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms.

They opened with Beethoven’s Trio in D major, Op. 70, No 1, often called the “Ghost Trio”, this because of its gloomy and mysterious slow movement. It is a fine and memorable work, written in 1808 and showing not the slightest loss in value over the passing of two centuries.

Here, as elsewhere in the concert, it was the cellist Peter Bruns who caught the eye and the ear. He has rather a flamboyant manner but he produces a golden tone from a 1730 cello that was once owned by Pablo Casals. Peter Bruns, who has a big reputation in Europe and America, is a player of high distinction, both in the rapid virtuoso passages and in the more lyrical phrases which one associates with the cello.

Some mellifluous Mendelssohn followed: the Trio in D minor, Op. 49. This is a lovely work and it brought forth lovely playing. The pianist, Ben Schoeman, came into his own, espressivo, in the graceful and delicate melodies of the slow movement.

Finally we were given Brahms’s Trio in B major, Op 8, and here the violinist, Kai Vogler, displayed a clear, sweet, penetrating tone. This is an interesting early work by Brahms, starting with slow, dignified chords on the piano and then a slow-breathing, long melody from the strings. The balance between violin and cello was superb as they sang in harmony. Incidentally, Kai Vogler plays a Stradivarius made in 1728.

At the end the audience responded with prolonged applause.

Fashion note: the three performers were all dressed in black shirts and black trousers, a pleasantly formal uniform.

The evening’s prelude performer was Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell of Durban, who at the age of 15 is a seasoned professional, having performed with orchestras as a soloist since she was nine. She gave a poised and polished performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s sonata for violin and piano in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2. The pianist is an equal partner, not an accompanist, in these Beethoven sonatas, and Liezel-Maret Jacobs showed strong skills at the keyboard, playing with dexterity and insight. They also played an uncharacteristically calm piece by Paganini called Cantabile, in a singing style. All very good and in keeping with the high standard of the evening. - Michael Green