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Friday, October 7, 2011


(Harpist Linor Steinhausen)

Off the beaten track programme features three Russian composers. (Review by Michael Green)

Three Russian composers and a programme well off the beaten track were presented by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in this concert on the Durban City Hall.

We started on familiar ground, Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, but then moved into what was probably unknown territory for most of the audience, Gliere’s Harp Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3.

The visiting 42-year-old German conductor Jonas Alber was on the podium, and Linor Steinhausen, who comes from Wales and is a member of the orchestra, was the solo harpist in the concerto. (Her maiden name was Griffith and she is married to Thomas Steinhausen, a violinist in the orchestra).

The splendidly fiery and rich Polovtsian Dances put everybody in a good mood, and the Russian romantic atmosphere continued in the Gliere concerto. Reinhold Gliere, who died in 1956 at the age of 81, spent his entire life in Russia during one of the most turbulent periods in its history. He managed to survive the brutal and irrational intrusions of the Soviet cultural authorities by writing conventional and patriotic music that won him the Stalin Prize and the Order of the Red Banner, among other awards.

His harp concerto, which dates from 1938, is a tuneful and amiable work, not earth-shaking but pleasant to listen to, and it was very well played by Linor Steinhausen. The scoring for a small orchestra, about 40 players, is deftly arranged to avoid any overpowering of the small tone of the harp, and we were able to hear very clearly the skills of the soloist. She was at her best in the ethereal first movement cadenza and in the serene and lovely slow movement.

Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 was written in the 1930’s, when the composer was happy in a house he had bought on the shores of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland (his celebrated Paganini Rhapsody dates from the same time).

The symphony is typical Rachmaninov, sweeping melodies and big climaxes, and the orchestra, back to its full strength of 70 players, revelled in this compelling, lush and opulent music. Jonas Alber’s fluent and expressive conducting obviously made a great contribution to the success of the performance, which was acknowledged at the end with an ovation from the audience.

At the pre-concert lecture/discussion, Linor Steinhausen gave a brief demonstration of harp playing, with comments. The harp has 47 strings and seven pedals, and if you are thinking of taking it up a new one will cost about R200,000. - Michael Green