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Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Superlative Symphony Concert in Grahamstown. (Review by Keith Millar)

The majestic KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year, was the resident orchestra for the 2013 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Amongst the variety of performances they presented at the festival was a superlative Symphony Concert.

Living in Durban with easy access to KZNPO, it is easy to become complacent and forget the quality of which they are capable. But when you hear them performing elsewhere in the country and see the excitement they engender, you are quickly reminded of how highly they are rated and just how good they are. This certainly was the case with the Concert performed at the Guy Butler Theatre at the 1820 Settlers Monument where the orchestra’s excellent performance was greeted with considerable excitement and appreciation by the full house audience.

The Guy Butler Theatre has a lively acoustic which is suitable for classical music as well as steeply racked seating which provides excellent sightlines to the stage, which enhanced the enjoyment of the concert.

The concert was conducted by American maestro Theodore Kuchar and featured as soloist Joanna Frankel on the violin. Kuchar is a very supportive conductor who coaxes rather than commands a performance from the musicians. The orchestra seems to respond well to his style and looked comfortable with their presentation.

The concert started with Wagner’s Rienzi Overture. While it may lack the musical innovation of some of his latter works it remains unmistakably Wagnerian in nature. The orchestra’s delivery of this work was impressive and set the tone for what was to follow.

Joanna Frankel provided a virtuoso performance with the Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op 47 by Jean Sibelius. She lives every note of the music she is playing and showed considerable skill and imagination in her delivery. This was particularly so in the third movement which is technically very difficult and is regarded as one of the greatest concerto movements ever written for violin.

Frankel, who is the Concert Master for the KZNPO, plays on a 1846 Jean Baptist Vuillaume violin which has a rich and warm timbre.

The second half of the programme consisted of Modest Mussorgsky’s magnificent composition, Pictures at an Exhibition. Written for piano in 1874 it is based on ten drawings and watercolours by a recently deceased friend. The work was orchestrated by Maurice Ravel in the 1920’s. This work has great variety in intensity and moods as the various pieces of art are musically described. Also notable is the recurring ‘promenade’ theme which links the work together into a unified whole.

Pictures at an Exhibition brought satisfactory conclusion to a Symphony Concert which will be remembered as one of the highlights of the 2013 National Arts Festival. – Keith Millar