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Saturday, April 16, 2011


(Emmanuel Bach & Jenny Stern)

Varied programme steered well away from the hackneyed and the over-familiar, providing ample evidence of the talents of these two musicians. (Review by Michael Green)

It is, I think, two years since the mother and son duo of Emmanuel Bach (violin) and Jenny Stern (piano) appeared in Durban. They made a welcome return in a Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre.

These players are based in England, but Jenny Stern comes from this part of the world - she is a graduate of Natal University (now UKZN) - and they both have many friends and admirers here. Emmanuel Bach used to be a sort of child prodigy, although there are so many gifted young violinists around these days that one hesitates to use the word prodigy. Anyway, he is now 18 years old, a tall, lean young man and a mature and poised artist.

A varied programme that steered well away from the hackneyed and the over-familiar provided ample evidence of the talents of these two musicians. They opened with Bach’s Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo, a delightful and admirably concentrated work; its four movements take less than ten minutes to perform.

Then came Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23, one of the least often played of the master’s ten sonatas for violin and piano. As is the case with the other nine, the two instruments are equal partners; the piano is certainly not a mere accompaniment. The texture of the music is rather sparse and clear, and there are many passages in which one instrument imitates the other. Jenny Stern played the piano part with very good judgment and balance, and generally speaking the performance of both players was immaculate and stylish.

I heard the comment later that they are rather cool and unemotional in their platform demeanour. Maybe, but I would rather have their calm dignity than the extravagantly flamboyant behaviour of some players.

Debussy’s Sonata in G minor, written in 1917, took us into the impressionistic era. This was a convincing performance of another concise work (about 15 minutes) and Emmanuel Bach, in particular, gave a confident and assertive interpretation of this complex music.

The programme ended with the Po√®me by the French composer Ernest Chausson, written in 1896, and Paganini’s well-known La Campanella.

The Prelude Performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was a singer, Warren Vernon-Driscoll, a pupil at Kearsney College. In quite an ambitious selection of songs by Bach, Bizet and Hugo Wolf, he displayed a tenor voice of pleasantly light timbre. He obviously has an intelligent appreciation of the music he is singing, and he shows much promise of developing further. – Michael Green