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Saturday, March 9, 2013


(Lukáš Vondráček)

Programme of music probably representing mainly unknown territory to the audience was a resounding success. (Review by Michael Green)

Apart from some minor non-musical mishaps, this penultimate concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s summer season was a resounding success with a programme of music that was probably mainly unknown territory to the audience.

The Durban City Hall stage was lit up like a Christmas tree, this presumably because the concert was being filmed for television. Bright blue lights adorned the stage entrances and big moving patterns of blue, yellow, pink and purple lights were played on the back walls. These were an irritating distraction, and in any case the dignified City Hall does not need this kind of improvement.

To add to the excitement, the orchestra’s precious Steinway grand piano nearly fell off the lift that moves it from ground level up to the stage, and when a choir of a hundred singers assembled on stage the chairs of some of them collapsed and had to be replaced.

Ah well, these things happen, and the music itself gave great pleasure to an enthusiastic audience. The concert opened with the overture to Engelbert Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera, Hansel and Gretel. The conductor for the evening was Russian-born Naum Rousine, who is a violinist in the orchestra and often steps up to the podium as assistant conductor. He is an experienced professional with a brisk and vigorous conducting style, and he contributed much to the success of the occasion.

The 26-year-old Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček joined the orchestra for a compelling virtuoso performance of the Piano Concerto in G minor by his compatriot Antonin Dvořák. This is not nearly as well known as Dvořák’s cello and violin concertos, but it is a lovely work, with plenty of the haunting melodies that make Dvořák’s music so memorable.

Vondráček has a formidable technique, as he had demonstrated two days earlier in recital for the Friends of Music. He has an unusual stance; he sits hunched over the keyboard, a picture of concentration. The results are outstanding: glittering fast passages and a lovely mellow tone in the lyrical phrases.

Prolonged applause at the end brought forth a dark and beautiful Rachmaninov encore.

Finally we had a big choral work by a local composer. Qinisela Sibisi was born in KwaMashu 50 years ago and obtained a music degree at the University of Zululand. He has been much involved with conducting and writing music for choirs, this in spite of a severe physical disability; he came on stage in a wheelchair and showed an attractive modesty when praised by the orchestra’s chief executive, Bongani Tembe.

The work performed was Sibisi’s Ihubo/Psalm 47, a seven-part setting of the psalm for orchestra, choir and solo singers. The music is most impressive, a fusion of western tradition and African melody. The composer says he was influenced by Haydn and others, and he could not have chosen better models.

The choir singers in this grand and tuneful work came from the Clermont Community Choir and the Thokozani Choral Society, and they showed that they were well trained and disciplined, with very good vocal balance.

The orchestra was in good form and the soloists were Khumbuzile Dlamini (soprano); Ntokozo Nokubeka (alto); Monwabisi Lindi (tenor); and Mthunzi Nokubeka (bass). They all sang with style and accuracy. Three of them are products of the University of KZN, and it is good to know that our music schools are turning out performers of this calibre. - Michael Green