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Saturday, March 8, 2014


(Pradeep Ratnayake)

Soloists extract maximum value from exotic and attractive music. (Review by Michael Green)

The old and the new, familiar ground and unknown territory, were covered by the KZN Philharmonic in the third concert of the orchestra’s summer season in the Durban City Hall.

The new music was a concerto for sitar and cello by Pradeep Ratnayake, a Sri Lankan who is a master of the sitar, the ancient stringed instrument of the east. It vaguely resembles a guitar but is much bigger, with many strings, of which six or seven are plucked. The others are “sympathetic strings” which resonate with the plucked strings.

Western audiences learned about the sitar mainly through the work of Ravi Shankar, the Indian maestro who died a few months ago aged 92. Pradeep Ratnayake is a worthy successor, both as composer and as executant.

He himself was the sitar soloist in the Durban performance of his concerto, which was written four years ago, with the solo cello role taken by an outstanding local player, Boris Kerimov, leader of the orchestra’s cello section. The conductor was again the vigorous and enthusiastic Yasuo Shinozaki from Japan.

Much of the concerto is based on Sri Lankan dance music, and its style in general is a successful fusion of eastern and western musical tradition. It is a four-movement work that runs for about 30 minutes. It is deftly scored (with the help of an American musician), strongly rhythmical and easy on the ear. The slow movement is particularly appealing, with a sweeping melody.

Both soloists seemed to me to extract maximum value from this exotic and attractive music, and it was a visual delight to watch the composer at work with his sitar, sitting on a cushion on the floor of the stage.

A large audience obviously enjoyed the performance and gave generous applause to the players. The two soloists played an eloquent and lively encore.

The rest of the programme consisted of two well-known and well-loved items: Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. This Beethoven work has no real parallel or equal in the symphonic repertory;  the English novelist E.M. Forster described it as “the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man”.

Conductor and orchestra gave an accurate, full-bodied, well-phrased and exciting  performance of music that after 200 years still has an overpowering effect on the listener. - Michael Green