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Saturday, June 13, 2015


(Bronwen Forbay)

International flavour for excellent programme. (Review by Michael Green)

The latest concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s winter season presented an evening of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music in the Playhouse Opera Theatre; the usual venue, the Durban City Hall, had been booked for some other event. The move turned out to be a pleasant change, and the theatre was nearly full.

The concert had quite an international flavour. The conductor, Daniel Boico, is an Israeli/American. The solo pianist, Kaju Lee, comes from South Korea, the singers from the United States but two of them originally from South Africa.

The programme was an excellent one, with compositions from three of Mozart’s most celebrated categories, the 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos and about 20 operas.

The orchestra opened with one of the lesser known symphonies, No. 26 in E flat major. This three-movement work is very short; it takes 10 minutes to perform. It was written in 1773 when Mozart, aged 17, had just returned to Salzburg from a visit to Italy.

It is a cheerful, attractive, concise symphony, and the orchestra gave a lively account of it.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, also in E flat major, is one of the composer’s finest works, with a virtuoso piano part. Kaju Lee, who now lives and teaches in Georgia, USA, is a slight and unassuming figure on stage, but she delivered this rapid and brilliant music with skill and aplomb.

Her performance was delicate rather than dynamic, but it was much to the taste of the audience, and she and the orchestra were given prolonged applause at the end.

Finally we had excerpts from Don Giovanni, one of the greatest of all operas. The magnificent overture (written in three hours the night before the premiere because Mozart had forgotten to supply one) was given a resounding performance by Boico and the orchestra, and this was followed by arias from the opera.

The singers were Bronwen Forbay, soprano, from Durban, now living in the United States; her husband, Randall Umstead, tenor, American; Jamie van Eyck, mezzo-soprano, American; and Christian Bester, baritone, South African/American.

There was no weak link here. All four are experienced singers with powerful and well-disciplined voices, and their artistry gave continuous pleasure. Bronwen Forbay is of course a local favourite, and she lived up to her reputation, but the others matched her quality and personality.

All four had good, trim figures. The day of the obese opera singer seems to be over.

Daniel Boico contributed greatly to the success of the evening. He has energy, vitality and charisma, and this is communicated not only to the orchestra but to the audience as well. - Michael Green