national Arts Festival Banner

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


(Konstantin Scherbakov)

One of the most remarkable recitals we have had in Durban for a long time. (Review by Michael Green)

The Russian pianist , who now lives in Switzerland, has built a big reputation as a specialist in virtuoso music that is off the beaten track.  At the age of 49 he has played in 35 different countries and he has, so far, produced 34 CDs, many of them under the Naxos label.

Playing for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre, he gave a remarkable demonstration of his prowess at the keyboard. In a programme devoted mainly to music by Liszt, with some by Schubert, he played very difficult works with great power, speed and accuracy, the total result being one of the most remarkable recitals we have had in Durban for a long time.

He opened with a rarity, Schubert’s Grazer Fantasie. It was written in 1818 but the score was lost and discovered only in 1962. It was first published in 1971. This was the only piece on the programme that was not a virtuoso display. It begins with a gentle Schubertian melody and works up some steam with a polonaise-style development. Lovely music and very well played.

More Schubert followed, the well-known Wanderer Fantasy, so named because Schubert used his own song, The Wanderer, as a main theme. Scherbakov played, I think, Liszt’s edition of the fantasy, with additions and elaborations. He handled the many technical and interpretative difficulties with aplomb; not the least of his merits is a calm demeanour at the keyboard.

After the interval came the big virtuoso music, starting with an extraordinary arrangement by Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz of Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre. Then came Liszt’s imposing and ambitious transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod, from Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. One might think that this essentially orchestral and vocal music would defy transition to the keyboard, but no musical venture was too bold for Franz Liszt, and this arrangement is dramatic and compelling.

Liszt’s Totentanz, Dance of Death, made a loud and brilliant end to the programme. An interesting piece this. Written in 1849, it is based on the mediaeval chant Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) and contains, in its diabolical intensity, many glimpses into the future music of the 20th century. Konstantin Scherbakov gave a tremendous performance that brought the audience to their feet at the end.

The Prelude Performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were a group of a cappella (unaccompanied) singers from Durban High School: Mthokozisi Hlela, S’bonelo Dlamini, Haydn Henning and Maqhawe Madonsela. They showed good balance and control in songs by Gershwin, John David and a traditional Plea for Africa. - Michael Green