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Saturday, October 22, 2011


(Sibongile Khumalo)

Sibongile Khumalo makes a great impact. (Review by Michael Green)

The distinguished South African singer Sibongile Khumalo made a great impact when she performed eight Zulu songs at this concert given by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City Hall.

She is, of course, well-known here, as indeed is the conductor of the evening, Arjan Tien, who comes from Holland. The songs that intrigued and delighted the audience were the set called Haya, Mntwan’ Omkhulu, Sing Princess. They were written about half a century ago by Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu (1900-1984), daughter of the Zulu king Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo and mother of Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and they are a fascinating fusion of ancient and modern.

The songs are basically traditional folk music, but they were expertly set down for voice and piano by Princess Magogo and later by Mzilikazi Khumalo, and they have been arranged more recently for orchestra by the Cape Town composer Peter Klatzow. They cover a variety of emotions and situations reflecting aspects of Zulu culture and society. They are melodious and rhythmical, and the music has a haunting quality and, to some western ears, a faintly impressionistic touch.

Sibongile Khumalo sang this music with great authority, dignity and purity of tone. She is described as a mezzo-soprano but she has a voice of astonishing range, from high soprano to alto. Klatzow’s orchestration is skilfully discreet, so as not to overpower the vocal line, and the performance as a whole was a memorable experience.

The programme very sensibly gave the text of the eight songs in Zulu and English.

We went back to western Europe for the rest of the concert: Mozart’s splendid Cosi fan tutte overture and Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 in F major, which dates from 1883.

Arjan Tien, a tall and imposing figure on the podium, conducted with vigour and insight, guiding the orchestra through the rhythmical subtleties and contrasting dynamics of the symphony. The result was an accurate, controlled and exciting performance that brought forth much applause at the end. - Michael Green