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Friday, October 14, 2011


(Gareth Johnson)

Conductor and soloist extract maximum value from remarkable music. (Review by Michael Green)

A return to the classics was the pattern of this latest concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City Hall. In recent weeks the orchestra’s programmes have been quite adventurous, but this concert presented well-loved compositions by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, all of them written between 1775 and 1803, a golden era.

The soloist was the American violinist Gareth Johnson, who at the age of 26 has established a big reputation as a virtuoso (he is also an exponent of hip-hop, the rhythmical music often accompanied by rap, spoken rhythmical phrases).

His choice of music for this concert was, I suppose, as far as you can get from hip-hop: Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G major, K. 216. This work, the third of Mozart’s five violin concertos, was written in 1775, when the composer was 19. It is amazingly mature. It has a profusion of lovely melodies, an assured sense of style and planning, and instrumental scoring that is impeccable, with the orchestra playing an important role throughout.

Both Gareth Johnson and the conductor, Jonas Alber (who comes from Germany), extracted maximum value from this remarkable music, from the whimsical opening to the poised and expressive Adagio and the sparkling final movement. Johnson is obviously a violinist of high quality, and he has a most engaging personality, as was clear in a pre-concert interview. “Mozart makes you happy”, he said, and indeed he made his audience happy with his mellow violin tone and his polished technique.

The concert opened with one of Haydn’s 107 symphonies, No. 73, known as “The Hunt” because its final movement has a horn call similar to that used in hunting in the 18th century. The orchestra were in splendid form in this delightful, cheerful music, and the conductor’s close rapport with the players was obvious.

Finally we were given a grand performance of one of the great masterworks, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the Pastoral. Conducting without a score, Jonas Alber seemed more vigorous and less restrained than he has been in some other works, and the orchestra responded admirably to his energetic direction. They were rewarded with a prolonged ovation at the end. - Michael Green