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Saturday, May 30, 2009


Brilliant performance by Armenian cellist Suren Bagratuni. (Review by Michael Green)

A programme of Brahms and Dvorak was presented in this concert given in the Durban City Hall by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton, for the second time this season, of the visiting Netherlands conductor Arjan Tien. The audience was again rather sparse, but those who attended were rewarded with a brilliant performance by the soloist for the evening, the Armenian cellist Suren Bagratuni.

Armenia is a small country on the eastern side of Turkey, a link between Asia and Europe, and it has a population of just over three million. But it has an ancient cultural heritage and musically it is strong, with its own symphony orchestra. This is the background of Suren Bagratuni, who now is a professor at Michigan State University in the United States and has performed as a cellist in many parts of the world.

He is fortyish, bald, bespectacled, a trifle portly, and looks more like a prosperous business man than a performing artist. But an artist he is, of the first rank. His playing of Dvorak’s very fine Cello Concerto in B minor matched the quality of the music. He showed an impeccable technique in the rapid passages and a golden tone and graceful phrasing in the concerto’s many lyrical, song-like episodes.

Arjan Tien and the orchestra were admirable partners in this performance, and the audience responded with a foot-stamping ovation.

The concert opened with the overture to Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride. This must be one of the busiest pieces in the entire repertory, with ceaseless scurrying by the strings, and conductor and orchestra played it with great vigour.

After the interval we heard Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, the most benign and genial of his four symphonies. It is a lovely work, and the first movement in particular is a good example of symphonic architecture, in which the brief and simple opening theme is developed and expanded until, toward the end, it resembles (to my ear) the great swell, rise and fall, of the sea.

It is a fairly long composition, about 40 minutes, and the orchestra’s playing was consistently good throughout, with Arjan Tien keeping a firm grip on proceedings. A most enjoyable performance, and the players deserved the prolonged applause they were given at the end. - Michael Green