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Friday, October 12, 2012


Robert Mitchell brings highly individual approach to familiar music. (Review by Michael Green)

An all-Beethoven programme attracted a big audience to the Durban City Hall for the fifth concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season; after 200 years, the master still has unmatched drawing power.

The concert was unusual in various ways. Before the start, the guest conductor of the evening, En Shao, chatted to the audience informally while perched on the piano stool. En Shao is from China, is a regular visitor here, and is rightly admired for his conducting and his cheerful attitude. This time he pointed out that all three works on the programme started in the key of C, and added that as a child he had located middle C by identifying it as the note above the piano keyhole.

Also unusual was the inclusion of two piano concertos on the programme, a challenging task for the soloist. And even more unusual was the fact that the soloist, the young American pianist Robert Mitchell, played both concertos from the scores, without benefit of a page turner, a sometimes hair-raising spectacle as he turned the pages while playing rapid passages.

The pianist’s interpretations of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major and Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor were also distinctly unusual. Robert Mitchell is obviously a highly accomplished player, and he seems to be a determined personality whose interests, according to the programme note, “are embedded in the here and now of music”.

He brought to this familiar music a highly individual approach, with sometimes unfamiliar tempi and dynamics. For example, the beautiful slow movement of the C minor concerto was played too fast for my taste. But this pianist has a certain charisma, and the audience enjoyed his playing immensely, giving him an ovation at the end, to which he responded with two encores.

En Shao and the orchestra were in good form throughout, and the opening item, Beethoven’s Coriolanus overture, was played with power and precision. - Michael Green