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Sunday, March 23, 2014


(Giuliano Sommerhalder)

A modern composer’s skills with an ancient instrument provided the novelty in the programme of the latest concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City Hall. (Review by Michael Green)

The music of the French composer Henri Tomasi (1901-1971) is not, I think, widely known, but his Trumpet Concerto in B flat has become an international success. The trumpet is one of the oldest of instruments, dating back to about 1500 BC (remember Joshua’s trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho), but the classical repertory for it is somewhat limited.

Tamasi’s concerto is an important contribution. Written in 1948, it is lively, lyrical at times, and not aggressively modern in style. The composer makes expert use of the bright, metallic tone of the trumpet, and his music was given a brilliant performance here by the 29-year-old Italian trumpeter Giuliano Sommerhalder. This was his African debut. He is a member of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, which visited Durban not long ago.

The orchestra was under the direction of another visitor, the German conductor Frank Cramer, who has built up wide experience and a big reputation in Europe.

This three-movement concerto is a concise work. It runs for about 20 minutes and is a showpiece for the trumpet. It sounds at times as if the composer wants to display every capability of the instrument.  Perhaps the most remarkable passage is a long cadenza in which the trumpeter has a soft drum accompaniment.  

Soloist, conductor and orchestra gave a compelling account of this sophisticated and attractive music (and very French it is, too), and they were rewarded with a prolonged storm of applause at the end.

The concert opened with a symphony by Joseph Haydn.  He is one of the half-dozen supreme figures in the history of music, but his works (including 106 symphonies and a fine trumpet concerto) are not often played by our orchestra. This time we heard No. 92, the Oxford Symphony, so named because Haydn conducted it at the university when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1791. It is exceptional music, especially the slow movement, and it was greatly enjoyed by the City Hall audience and, it seemed, by conductor and orchestra.

Finally, we were given a big, emotional performance of the Symphony in D minor by the Belgian/French composer Cesar Franck.  Written in 1888, this is a serious, deeply felt work, and it has achieved great popularity over the past hundred years.

Frank Cramer and the orchestra gave a committed, resonant and grand account of this symphony, the only one composed by Cesar Franck. - Michael Green