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Saturday, October 24, 2009


(Pic: Conductor Yasuo Shinozaki)

An occasion of unusual interest and rare quality from Christoph Bielefeld and the KZNPO. (Review by Michael Green)

The many Durban City Hall regulars who missed this concert missed an occasion of unusual interest and rare quality. Works for the harp are not likely to draw huge crowds, but this was harp playing with a difference, as we soon found out. The harpist was a 23-year–old German, Christoph Bielefeld, and the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by the energetic and enthusiastic Yasuo Shinozaki, who comes from Japan. A programme of English, French, American and Russian music gave the evening a really international flavour.

We don’t hear Handel very much at our symphony concerts. He is one of a handful of the supreme masters in musical history, and he was nobly represented here by the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, played with much vigour and pomp, and by his splendid Concerto for Harp, Op. 4, No 6.

Like, I suspect, most members of the audience, I am not an expert on harp music, but the excellence of Christoph Bielefeld’s playing was apparent to all. The Handel concerto has two cheerful and lively outer movements and a second movement, larghetto, that is calm, serene and beautiful. The harpist produced an excellent tone, and his clear articulation of rapid passages was remarkable to hear and to see, especially the long cadenza near the end of the second movement. The audience were obviously gripped by all this. They were wholly attentive, and they gave the harpist an ovation.

He had a second item to play with the orchestra, Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane (sacred dance and secular dance), an unusual and elegant work based on Portuguese and Spanish dance styles. In this, as in the Handel, Yasuo Shinozaki and the orchestra handled their role with skill and understanding.

Responding to prolonged applause, the harpist gave a lengthy encore, a gentle piece by Faure played with great delicacy and restrained virtuosity.

Lincoln Portrait, by Aaron Copland (1900-1990) has not, as far as I know, been performed here before. It was commissioned ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, which was not “shortly before the Second World War”, as the programme note stated. The Second World War had started two years earlier. The work calls for a narrator to quote parts of Abraham Lincoln’s, most famous speeches, and this role was taken by the distinguished Durban actor Garth Anderson, sitting in a wheelchair (his legs have been amputated because of diabetes).

Aaron Copland is the most American of composers, and his music exactly fitted the subject: strong, eloquent and down to earth, with a homely element suggested by popular songs of Lincoln’s time. Garth Anderson has a big, clear voice, and he conveyed admirably the dignity and power of Lincoln’s words, with just the slightest American inflection to give added authenticity. A most impressive performance all round.

Some members of the audience must surely have noted the irony of a Japanese musician conducting a performance of a work that had its origins in Japan’s attack on the United States at Pearl Harbour. Music has power to overcome all differences, past and present.

The concert ended with something much more familiar: Rimsky-Korsakov’s brilliantly scored Scheherazade, which tells the story of the Arabian Nights in vivid and memorable music. - Michael Green