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Friday, October 15, 2010


Concert celebrates two anniversaries and offered some unusual features. (Review by Michael Green)

Two anniversaries were celebrated in this concert given by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City Hall. Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was born 200 years ago, and the Violin Concerto in B minor by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was given its first performance (by Fritz Kreisler) a hundred years ago, in 1910.

The conductor was Robert Maxym, who is well known here. Born and bred in the United States, he has lived for the past 17 years in South Africa. The soloist was the English violinist Daniel Rowland, who had impressed greatly in his Friends of Music recital two days earlier. The Elgar concerto was well suited to his emotional, dramatic style of playing.

Elgar has always been admired most by his English compatriots, and rather less by people elsewhere. His music reflects the times in which he lived, and the violin concerto is a good example. It is Edwardian, confident, expansive, romantic. It is very long, about 50 minutes, and it is a formidable technical challenge for the soloist.

Daniel Rowland’s lovely violin tone was displayed to excellent effect in the long melodic lines of the first movement, in which the soloist floats bird-like over a subdued orchestra; and the Andante, the heart of the work, produced some beautifully eloquent playing, with plenty of vibrato. The surprise cadenza towards the end of the final movement was executed with great brilliance, and the performance as a whole was a rousing success, as indicated by the storm of applause at the end.

The evening had some unusual features.

Daniel Rowland’s habit of stamping his feet while playing produced noises that could be heard in the far reaches of the City Hall.

Half way through the first movement he exchanged violins with one of the orchestra’s players, without interruption to the music. Apparently a string of his instrument had snapped. Someone took it away, and he continued with the borrowed violin until his own was returned, presumably repaired, a little later, again without interruption.

He played from a score of the concerto, and at one stage the leader of the orchestra, Hristo Kardjiev, rose from his chair to turn a page at a particularly awkward point.

Meanwhile Robert Maxym was finding it hot work on the podium, and between movements he wiped his face with a towel, rather like a tennis player between sets.

Schumann’s anniversary was marked with a splendid performance of his Symphony No. 1 in B flat, the Spring Symphony. Schumann wrote four symphonies, and they are not played as often as they should be, in my view. This first symphony was written at the start of the composer’s idyllic marriage to Clara, and it breathes youthful happiness, especially in the graceful, flowing slow movement.

The orchestra played the work with accuracy, precision and enthusiasm, and there was a notable contribution from the brass instruments, especially the horns.

A bright and lively account of Weber’s richly orchestrated Oberon overture opened a concert that gave much enjoyment. - Michael Green