national Arts Festival Banner

Friday, March 14, 2014


(Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort)

It was a Hungarian evening at the Durban City Hall for the latest concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

The programme was occupied by Hungary’s two greatest composers, Franz Liszt and Bela Bartok, and the orchestra was conducted by a newcomer here, the 34-year-old American conductor Kazem Abdullah.

Liszt typifies in many ways the 19th century and Bartok the 20th, and there is a span of a hundred years between the composition of their works played here. Yet the Hungarian strain is obvious in both composers, though it must be admitted that Bartok was represented by his most popular and accessible and least obscure work.

The concert opened with Les Preludes, written in 1848, the best of Liszt’s 13 symphonic poems. It is an ardent, brilliant work. Its rather enigmatic title comes from a poem by the French writer Alphonse de Lamartine, who saw life as a series of preludes to the inevitable end.

Kazem Abdullah, who is the music director at Aachen, Germany, showed from the outset that he is a conductor with a lively and warm personality.  He has quite a restrained style on the podium but there was no doubting his control and his attention to detail. The orchestra responded admirably, with a compelling performance of this romantic and majestic music.

Then came Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat, completed in 1849, with the 29-year-old Belgian pianist Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort as soloist. This is another fine work, notable for its extraordinary unity. Its four movements are played without a break, and the main themes recur several times, especially the powerful and energetic opening subject. It is also very difficult to play.

Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort delivered the thundering octaves and rapid runs with power and accuracy, and the true artistry of his playing was revealed in the Adagio, which presents one of the loveliest melodies in the entire concerto repertory.

After prolonged applause he gave an encore, Liszt’s arrangement of a song by Schumann, Widmung, Dedication.

Finally we had Bartok’s big, bold Concerto for Orchestra, written in 1943 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Bartok had emigrated to the United States in 1940). The title seems anomalous – a concerto is normally written for solo instrument and orchestra – but the composer himself explained that he had treated all the instruments in a solo virtuoso way at different points.

It is melodious, strongly rhythmical, forceful, and brilliantly scored, and the orchestra were in splendid form in music that was probably unfamiliar to many members of the audience. -- Michael Green