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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Oustanding young South African pianist for Friends of Music. (Review by Michael Green)

For the second time in a fortnight, the Friends of Music have presented an outstanding young South African pianist in a recital at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The first was Ben Schoeman from Pretoria and the second is Jan Hugo, who was born in Bloemfontein 20 years ago and is already quite a veteran of the concert stage.

Jan Hugo is a tall, slender young man, slight of figure but bold and strong at the keyboard. He gave a varied programme of consistently difficult music, and in doing so he demonstrated a formidable technique and a confident approach to technical and interpretative problems.

He opened with Schumann’s Novellette, Op. 21, No of this master’s lesser known works. The novelletten are a set of pieces written in 1838. They were named after an English singer, Clara Novello, who was a friend of Schumann’s, but the real inspiration seems to have come from the other Clara, his wife and the love of his life. As novellette means a novella, a short novel, the title seems appropriate for what is a kind of musical adventure story.

Jan Hugo tackled the piece with considerable gusto. Some people in the audience thought he was too robust, but I found his vigorous account of the music attractive and appealing.

Then came the major work of the evening, the last of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, Op. 111, a composition that presents a tremendous intellectual, emotional and physical challenge to the performer. The music is profound, far-reaching, prophetic, astonishingly modern considering that it was written nearly 200 years ago. I found Jan Hugo’s performance compelling and remarkably mature for so young a player. He succeeded in invoking accurately the stormy and poetic spirit of Beethoven, the greatest master of all.

This inevitably overshadowed the rest of the programme, brilliant and attractive though it was. Jan Hugo showed his great technical abilities in pieces by Liszt and Ravel, the most effective being Le Gibet from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, in which the pianist conveyed exactly the macabre creak and swing of the gallows.

The Prelude Performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were two singers from the UKZN opera school, Azola Mabutho (bass baritone) and Teresa Mbatha (soprano). They gave much pleasure with songs from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and an old Rodgers and Hammerstein favourite, Oklahoma. - Michael Green