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Friday, February 19, 2010


(Pic: Benjamin Schmid)

Outstanding duo recital seen in Friends of Music event.

This was an outstanding duo recital: lovely music played by two truly gifted performers, the Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid and the Portuguese pianist (now based at Stellenbosch) Luis Magalhaes.

Over the past two decades Benjamin Schmid, who is now 41, has established a big international reputation, and listening to his playing at the Durban Jewish Centre it is easy to understand why. From his 1731 Stradivarius he produces a consistently full and beautiful tone, and he plays with a calmness, poise and control that make light of any technical difficulties.

Luis Magalhaes, who now teaches at Stellenbosch University, has been a concert pianist for many years, and he proved to be an admirable partner for the admirable Schmid.

The programme was devoted to Schubert and Beethoven, and the works played are all very much for violin and piano on equal terms; there is no question of the piano providing a mere accompaniment.

It was a treat to be given three compositions by Schubert that are not played too often: a graceful, flowing Sonatina and two big works, the Fantasy in C major and the Rondo Brillant in B minor. Schubert is one of a handful of supreme composers in musical history, and this Fantasy, written in1827, is ample evidence of his powers. The opening is extraordinary, a prolonged tremolo on the piano with an expressive adagio melody from the violin. Then follows a wide range of ideas and emotions, the crucial theme being an adaptation, with variations, of one of Schubert’s most beautiful songs, Angel of beauty.

The performance was superb, and perhaps a special word of appreciation is due to Luis Magalhaes. Schubert’s keyboard music is often awkward and difficult to play, and this pianist handled the problems with aplomb The Schubert Rondo Brillant was likewise played with great skill, vigour and conviction.

The programme was completed with one of the greatest works for violin and piano, Beethoven’s Sonata in G major Op 96, the last and finest of the composer’s ten violin sonatas. The programme note mentioned that this sonata is sometimes (not often, fortunately) referred to as “The Cockcrow”. Musical nicknames are often silly, but this one verges on the idiotic. Anybody who thinks that the sonata’s opening phrase resembles a cock’s crow (the apparent source of the nickname) must be tone deaf, in my opinion.

Be that as it may, the performance was first-rate throughout. It is a pity that wet, stormy weather reduced the audience in size, but those who braved the rain and lightning were richly rewarded.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was yet another instrumentalist with eastern origins, this time Chia-Chi Chiang, known as Casey, a pianist who is a 17-year-old pupil at Northlands Girls’ High School. She played Debussy’s Cathedrale Engloutie (sunken cathedral) and Rachmaninov’s Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, No. 10. These were ambitious choices, but she gave a creditable performance and showed a good sense of style and dynamics. She will no doubt continue to work hard and make good progress in the future. – Michael Green