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Sunday, September 2, 2012


The Durban City Hall was packed full for this appearance of one of the world’s most celebrated violinists, Joshua Bell, with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, and the excited and expectant audience were not disappointed.

The American virtuoso was the soloist in Brahms’s big and imposing Violin Concerto in D major. A slender, boyish figure who looks younger than his 44 years, he has, to use an overworked word, charisma, authentic charisma. He has a flamboyant manner of playing, with a good deal of body movement. His instrument is a 300-year-old Stradivarius worth about R30 million, and from it he extracts many exquisite and brilliant sounds.

This concerto is particularly well-suited to his gifts, because it combines the lyricism of Brahms the song-writer and the formal strength of Brahms the symphonist. Joshua Bell made light of its many technical difficulties – fierce double-stopping, rapid scale passages and so forth – and he produced a beautiful cantabile tone in the gentler moments.

The audience were captivated and they gave the violinist a thunderous standing ovation at the end. He responded with an encore, an attractive piece based on Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Of course, the orchestra and conductor shared in this triumph. The conductor was Theodore Kuchar, an American with a Ukrainian background. He has made many recordings over the past ten years, and his experienced hand was an important factor in the entire concert.

The orchestra were in excellent form, in the concerto and in the Dvorak Symphony No 8. This is a lovely work, with rich melodies and many touches of the Bohemian music that was Dvorak’s cultural heritage. Theodore Kuchar has a poised but dynamic conducting style, saving his most energetic and dramatic gestures for the right moments, and the orchestra responded with a glowing performance, particular from the cellos and the brass section.

The concert opened with Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, complete with the student song Gaudeamus igitur, Let us therefore rejoice. Yes, that was the mood of this concert. - Michael Green

Footnote: Joshua Bell lives in New York and is unmarried but has a four-year-son from a former girlfriend.