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Saturday, September 6, 2014


(Ben Schoeman)

Virtuoso performance of brilliant work. (Review by Michael Green)

A virtuoso performance by the South African pianist Ben Schoeman was the dominant feature of the second concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season, in the Durban City Hall.

He played the Piano Concerto No. 5 by the French composer Camille Saint-Saens, a brilliant work replete with lovely melodies and extreme difficulties for the pianist.

This concerto is sometimes called The Egyptian because Saint-Saens, an enthusiastic traveller, wrote it during a stay in Egypt in 1896. It has exotic themes and effects, and the pianist’s role is challenging, to put it mildly.

Ben Schoeman surmounted the technical problems splendidly, and produced a beautiful tone in the work’s many lyrical passages. The orchestra, with the widely experienced Ukrainian American conductor Theodore Kuchar on the podium, were in very good form, and the audience gave prolonged applause at the end of an outstanding performance.

The concert opened with Antonin Dvorak’s Midday Witch, one of the composer’s lesser known works, a symphonic poem based on a rather macabre children’s story.  It is dramatic and vivid, and it was well played.

Finally we had Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No 6 in B minor, which dates from 1939. It starts with a solemn slow movement, which is as long as the other two movements put together, and ends with a kind of comic gallop. Very noisy, and brilliantly scored for the orchestra.

The audience was noticeably smaller than that which had attended the previous concert with music by Mendelssohn and Brahms, and a substantial number left at the interval, before the Shostakovich. Programmes obviously affect attendances. - Michael Green