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Monday, October 6, 2014


(Joanna Frankel)

Frankel meets the challenges of Brahms’s Violin Concerto with admirable skill. (Review by Michael Green)

Music from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries made up the programme for the latest concert of the spring season of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, in the Durban City Hall.

Two American musicians were the main figures on the stage: the conductor Kenneth Slowik and the violinist Joanna Frankel.

Slowik has a long and distinguished record as a conductor in the United States and as a cellist, mainly in chamber music groups.

Joanna Frankel had achieved distinction in America as a young soloist before being appointed concert master of the KZNPO nearly two years ago.

We in Durban are fortunate in having so accomplished a player in our permanent ranks. She has played concertos with the orchestra before, and this time she performed Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major, technically and interpretatively one of the most demanding works in the repertory.

Written in 1878, it is a long and taxing concerto, running for about 40 minutes. Joanna Frankel met the challenges with admirable skill. She played with a full, sweet tone, and the first movement cadenza by Fritz Kreisler was a brilliant display of violin virtuosity.

Kenneth Slowik is a fairly restrained kind of conductor, using economical but expressive gestures, and he took the orchestra sympathetically and authoritatively through Brahms’s complex score.

The audience showed their appreciation with prolonged applause.

The concert opened with Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G major, which dates from 1787. Joseph Haydn is the only major composer to have written more than a hundred symphonies, and the astonishing thing is that nearly all of them are memorable works of the highest quality. He is the most good-humoured of all composers; like many other people, I always feel better for having heard a Haydn symphony.

No. 88 is typical: a stately, slow introduction, a tuneful first movement, an elegant largo (which was much admired by Brahms), a rather rustic minuet, and an irresistibly cheerful finale.

The players were in splendid form, and gave a precise, accurate and totally enjoyable performance.

Between these two masterworks came the imposing Passacaglia by Anton Webern, who was born in 1883 and was killed when he was shot by an American soldier in Allied-occupied Austria soon after the end of World War 2 in 1945.

The Passacaglia (a set of variations) was written in 1908 and it is still very modern to most ears. - Michael Green