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Saturday, September 21, 2013


(Michelle Breedt)

First-class performance with excellent rapport between orchestra and soloist. (Review by Michael Green)

The outstanding South African mezzo-soprano Michelle Breedt was the soloist with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the third concert of the spring symphony season in the Durban City Hall.

Playing music by Wagner and Beethoven the orchestra was again in good form, with the accomplished and experienced Russian/German conductor Thomas Sanderling on the podium.

Richard Wagner is of course celebrated for his massive, overwhelming operas, and his non-operatic music is sparse and generally not well known. The Wesendoncklieder fall, I think, into this category. They are five songs written by Wagner in 1849 when he and his wife Minna were living temporarily in a garden cottage at the holiday home in Zurich, Switzerland, of a rich silk merchant, Otto Wesendonck.

Wagner struck up a warm friendship, to put it euphemistically, with Wesendonck’s pretty young wife, Mathilde. She was a poet, and Wagner set five of her poems to music, for the unusual combination of mezzo-soprano and orchestra. These are the Wesendoncklieder, and very beautiful they are too, with the orchestra having a virtually equal role with the singer.

Michelle Breedt, who has earned a big reputation in Europe and America, came on stage with crutches, having broken an ankle in a golf course accident. This in no way impaired her performance.  She has a splendid, powerful voice and she sang the Wagner songs with pure intonation and with great insight, control and clarity.

This was a first-class performance, with excellent rapport between orchestra and soloist.

The programme opened with one of Wagner’s best known compositions, the gentle and tender Siegfried Idyll. Written in 1870 as a birthday present for his second wife, Cosima, it was first performed by 13 players on the stairs of their house in Lucerne. This time we heard an arrangement for full orchestra, including woodwind and brass.

Thomas Sanderling’s restrained conducting brought forth a sympathetic and sensitive response from the players.

The second half of the programme was devoted to Beethoven’s Symphony No 4 in B flat, Op. 60, one of the lesser known of his nine symphonies but a masterpiece nonetheless. The probing, shadowy, mysterious and profound opening was presented with great skill by Thomas Sanderling, and the vigorous and eloquent music that follows gave much pleasure to an appreciative audience. - Michael Green