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Saturday, October 25, 2014


(Justus Frantz)

Justus Frantz conducts triumphant final concert of the KZN Philharmonic’s spring season. (Review by Michael Green)

About 200 singers and the 70-strong KZN Philharmonic Orchestra crowded the stage of the Durban City Hall for a triumphant final concert of the orchestra’s spring season.

They performed one of the most extraordinary compositions of the 20th century, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (Songs of Beuren), a non-religious cantata for choir, vocal soloists and orchestra, written in the 1930’s but rooted in mediaeval Europe.

If this description sounds forbiddingly highbrow, I hasten to add that the work has achieved vast popularity. Its opening and closing chorus, O Fortuna, has had a powerful appeal for film and television makers and for advertisers of a wide variety of products, from after-shave lotion to draught beer.

Carmina Burana has been presented several times in Durban in the past, always with great success, as was the case on this occasion.

It is based on 11th to 13th century poems found hundreds of years later in a Bavarian monastery. Carl Orff, a German, set 25 of them to music, using a generally unharmonised, strongly rhythmical style to suggest the relatively straightforward music of long ago.

It is a captivating work, and it roused a full house in the City Hall to an exceptional pitch of enthusiasm, with a prolonged standing ovation for the performers. The concert was staged as a tribute to Bongani Tembe’s 20 years as the KZNPO’s chief executive, and he must have been a proud man.

The German conductor and pianist Justus Frantz was on the podium, and the combined choirs were the Sounds of Joy Chorale (based in Umlazi), the Clermont Community Choir, the Durban Symphonic Choir and the Ekuthuleni Primary School Choir.

The soloists were Beverley Chiat (soprano), Nicholas Nicholaidis (tenor) and Njabulo Madlala (baritone).

The solo parts are particularly challenging, encompassing a huge tonal range, from falsetto to bass, and these three South African performers acquitted themselves splendidly. The baritone role is dominant, and Njabulo Madlala displayed a big, resonant voice with beautifully expressive phrasing. Beverley Chiat had no problem with her exceptionally high notes, and Nicholas Nicholaidis was equally impressive in his only solo item, sung in an unerring falsetto.

The choristers obviously enjoyed the music as much as the audience did, and they seemed to be inspired by Justus Frantz’s conducting. He is now 70 but he has an enormous vigour and enthusiasm. To him must go much of the credit for the success of the concert.

The evening opened with a rousing performance of Richard Strauss’s Don Juan. Written in 1888, it is a brilliantly orchestrated tonal picture of the legendary lover. The orchestra were in fine form, with the horn players extracting full value from their prominent part (the horn was one of Strauss’s favourite instruments). - Michael Green