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Friday, May 27, 2011


(Dmitri Kouzov)

First class performances from the orchestra of Bloch and Mahler works. (Review by Michael Green)

Two big compositions from the early twentieth century occupied the programme for the second concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s winter season.

Music by the Swiss composer Ernest Bloch and the Austrian Gustav Mahler attracted a fair-sized attendance in the Durban City Hall on a cold, wet night. The audience were rewarded with first-class performances from the orchestra, conducted by Omri Hadari, who comes from Israel, and from the soloist of the evening, the Russian cellist Dmitri Kouzov.

Ernest Bloch lived in the United States for 40 years and his Schelomo – A Hebrew Rhapsody, scored for orchestra and solo cello, was first performed in the Carnegie Hall in New York in 1917. Schelomo means Solomon, and Bloch himself said that the solo cello was the voice of King Solomon and that the orchestra represented the world around him.

It is a vivid work, with brilliant fortissimo passages for the orchestra contrasting with the brooding, philosophical cello. Dmitri Kouzov gave a totally convincing performance of a difficult solo part. Much of the cello role is deep in the bass, and he showed great skill in producing a tone that penetrated to the far reaches of the City Hall.

Omri Hadari, a familiar figure on the City Hall podium, conducted this essentially Jewish music with the insight one would expect from a man who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel.

The main work of the evening was Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, which calls for an exceptionally large orchestra. Seventy-five players were assembled on the City Hall stage, including seven French horns, four trumpets, five percussion players and 40 strings, and they produced an impressive volume of sound.

The symphony, written in 1901 and 1902, has five movements and runs for about 70 minutes; nobody ever accused Mahler of being short-winded. The music is at different times melancholy, fierce, exuberant, gentle. The fourth movement, Adagietto (fairly slow), is Mahler’s most famous piece, partly because it was used as background in the film Death in Venice. It has a calm, poised beauty that is captivating, and it was played with great eloquence by the strings of the KZNPO.

Omri Hadari conducted the symphony without a score, a considerable feat of memory, and he maintained a tight control over the orchestra while drawing some excellent playing from it. The work ends with a powerful, triumphant passage. The conductor gave a little leap on the final note, and there were excited shouts from the audience, followed by prolonged applause. It is a very long symphony but, as the celebrated conductor Herbert von Karajan observed, you forget that time has passed. - Michael Green