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Wednesday, February 1, 2012


(Yasutaka Hemmi, violin, and Takayo Matsumura, harp)

Friends of Music large audience responds enthusiastically to highly skilled artists. (Review by Michael Green)

Japs Duo was the rather breezy title given to this recital by two Japanese musicians for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

In recent years we have been accustomed, through recorded music, to hearing many excellent string players from Japan, but almost invariably they have been playing western music. These two performers gave us some well-known music from old Europe, but in addition they devoted part of their programme to Japanese music, an unusual experience for most of the audience (though the KZNPO did play not long ago a work by Toru Takemitsu).

This Friends of Music concert attracted an unusually large audience, about 150 people, and they responded enthusiastically. Both players are obviously highly skilled artists. This was clear from the opening piece, the Meditation from Massenet’s opera Thais. This was followed by a lengthy virtuoso Fantaisie, Op. 124, by Saint-Saens, the most interesting part being a passage in which a contrapuntal figure for the harp is set against pyrotechnics from the violin.

Then came a piece by the South African composer Michael Blake, Leaf Carrying Song, an enigmatic title for a rather enigmatic work.

The Japanese part of the programme started with a harp solo, Falling Cherry Blossoms, by Toshio Hosokawa. This was rather solemn, with many pregnant pauses. Minimalist, somebody sitting near me said.

Yasutaka Hemmi is a composer as well as a violinist, and he presented one of his own works, Minimashi Hoichi Fantasy, a rather macabre and ghostly kind of witches’ dance, strange but interesting, and brilliantly played.

The final Japanese item was in more popular vein, Jo Hisaishi’s Princess Mononoke, written as film music.

Finally, the players turned to everybody’s favourites, two pieces by Fritz Kreisler and Vittorio Monti’s Czardas. The Kreisler in particular revealed fully how very good a harpist Takayo Matsumura is.

The Prelude Performer of the evening was the 21-year-old soprano Camilla van der Merwe, who gave songs by Rachmaninov, Hugo Wolf and the nineteenth century Viennese composer of operettas Carl Zeller. She is a poised and attractive singer who shows great promise.

A familiar figure at Friends of Music concerts over the years will no longer be with us. The distinguished pianist Glyn Townley died recently in Durban at the age of 100. In his prime he had 30 piano concertos and 700 solo works in his repertory, and he appeared 170 times as soloist with an orchestra, here and abroad. After his official retirement in 1982, he gave hundreds of free performances for senior citizens in retirement homes and villages.

At a concert some time ago, I was discussing a piece of piano music with him and remarked that it was not as easy to play as it sounded. “Nothing’s easy”, said Glyn. Too true. - Michael Green

FOM acknowledges the support of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.