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Sunday, June 8, 2014


(Vessela Minkova)

Elegant and expressive display of the bassoon’s capabilities from Vessela Minkova. (Review by Michael Green)

Beethoven and Mozart were the composers on the programme for the fourth concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s winter season, in the Durban City Hall.

Two symphonies, a concerto and an overture looked a formidable undertaking, but the works were all concise and the concert ran for no longer than the normal time.

The most unusual work was the Bassoon Concerto K. 191 by Mozart, with the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, Vessela Minkova, as soloist.

The bassoon, which was invented in the early 18th century, is highly individual instrument sometimes regarded as grumpy or humorous but more accurately described as the baritone voice of the woodwind.  In the music of Mozart it can have a distinctive lyrical tone, as Vessela Minkova amply demonstrated in her performance.

Born in Bulgaria, she has been with the orchestra for 24 years, and her husband, Lubomir Minkov, is also a bassoonist with the KZNPO.

She gave an elegant and expressive display of the bassoon’s capabilities, much to the delight of the audience, who gave her prolonged applause at the end.

The conductor was the German veteran Thomas Sanderling, who is  well-known here. He has a restrained style but there is no doubting his authority and control and insight into the music. The concert opened with Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, the Paris symphony, written in that city in 1778, when the composer was 22. It is a stylish, lively work, designed especially for the Paris audiences of the time, and it was given an excellent performance, with the strength of the orchestra’s strings heard to good effect.

After the interval Thomas Sanderling and the orchestra produced more fine playing in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, first performed in 1800 when the composer was 29 (he turned 30 later that year). It is a high-spirited work but never trivial, testimony to that first audience in Vienna 214 years ago that a major new figure had arrived on the music scene.

The concert ended with Beethoven’s Leonora Overture No. 3, which was written for the opera Fidelio but which often stands alone as a brilliant and dramatic piece of music.

It is not often that an orchestra stands for a long time in acknowledging a wildly enthusiastic ovation from an audience, but that’s what happened here. - Michael Green