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Thursday, January 13, 2011


Pianist Bryan Wallick earns whistles of approval at Friends of Music concert. (Review by Michael Green)

A virtuoso pianist has remarkable pulling power in the world of music, and a large crowd turned up at the Durban Jewish Centre for this Friends of Music recital by Bryan Wallick, a young American who is now based in Pretoria and who has built a big international career on the concert platform.

Apart from the regulars, there were many new faces in the audience, and Dr Vera Dubin, the chairman of the Friends of Music, tells me that she has signed up many new members this year. All most encouraging for the future of classical music in Durban.

Bryan Wallick has played in Durban before, and obviously his reputation had preceded him. He presented a virtuoso programme that greatly appealed to the audience. He is a tall, lean man with an admirably natural and unaffected keyboard manner, and he delivered a very taxing programme with aplomb and exceptional skills.

Some experts in the audience thought he had a rather hard tone and that his playing was rather loud. Maybe, but these are characteristics of many virtuoso pianists, and the fact is that the concert was a great success. Not many soloists earn whistles of approval, as Bryan Wallick did.

He opened with Haydn’s English Sonata, in C major, Hob. 16.50, a work that, like most of this composer’s music, is polished, bright and cheerful. It was a delight to listen to, and one wonders why music by this great master is not played more often at concerts and recitals.

This was followed by Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, Symphonic Studies, one of the most difficult works in the repertory. Bryan Wallick played this dense, complex music with power, resonance and authority. I liked best the quiet, reflective variation just before the brilliant finale. Debussy’s three Estampes (“prints”) were a strong contrast. They are based on impressions from the Orient, Spain and France, and they displayed the pianist’s skills in quieter music.

The full virtuoso treatment returned in Liszt’s transcriptions of two well-known Schubert songs, Ave Maria and the thunderous Erlkonig, and in Vladimir Horowitz’s arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15, the one with the Rakoczy March. It appears to be even more difficult than the original and has many “modern” touches.

For encores we had Schumann’s Traumerie (Dreaming), the only really gentle music in the recital, and a whirlwind arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.

The Prelude Performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was a 15-year-old violinist, Daniel Kolev, from Kearsney College. Accompanied at the piano by Dana Hadjiev, he showed high promise as he played a sonata by the eighteenth century Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini and a colourful Spanish piece, Souvenir de Sarasate, by the German-American composer William Potstock. - Michael Green