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Saturday, March 7, 2015


(Ward Stare)

Orchestra does full justice to Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, with the Adagio being the high point. (Review by Michael Green)

A much-admired pianist and a conductor making his first appearance in Durban were the principal figures in the latest concert, in the City Hall, of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

Both are young men who have achieved much in a short time. The Czech pianist Lukas Vondracek is 28 and has played in 33 countries, establishing a reputation as a top-rank virtuoso.

The American conductor Ward Stare is 32, has been on the podium with major orchestras in the United States, Europe and the East, and is now music director of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Rochester, New York state.

The Durban programme consisted of two classics and a less familiar work, one by a South African composer, Hendrik Hofmeyr, who was born in Cape Town in 1957 and has an impressive list of compositions to his name.

The orchestra played his Preludio e Umsindo, which is intended to create an African atmosphere and has elements of traditional Bushman, Xhosa and Zulu songs. The music is skilfully written, with strong rhythms and a big climax, and it was an interesting and enjoyable start to the concert.

The three movements of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, first performed by the composer himself in 1803, are greatly varied: dynamic and forceful, gentle and meditative, joyful and dramatic.

Lukas Vondracek, who had delighted a Friends of Music audience two days earlier, produced another quality performance, his great technical abilities used not to show off but to serve the needs of this great music. He had absolute control over the rapid scales that adorn the first movement in particular, and he had admirable and precise partners in Ward Stare and the orchestra.

After prolonged applause he played an encore of extraordinary volume and velocity, the third movement of Prokofiev’s seventh piano sonata.

Ward Stare had quite a restrained conducting style in the Beethoven but displayed much more vigour in the rich, opulent tones of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, the Scottish (so named because the composer picked up some ideas during a visit to Scotland in 1829).

The orchestra did full justice to the music, with the high point coming in the beautiful Adagio. - Michael Green