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Saturday, October 3, 2015


(Bryan Wallick)

A remarkable performance recognised as such by an appreciative audience. (Review by Michael Green)

A programme of mainly unfamiliar music produced pleasant surprises for the Durban City Hall audience at the latest concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season.

A Sergei Prokofiev piano concerto that has seldom if ever been played here before turned out to be a spectacular success, and a virtually unknown symphony by another Russian composer put a song in everyone’s heart.

The conductor was the enthusiastic and popular Israeli-American Daniel Boico, and the solo pianist was another performer much admired here, Bryan Wallick, American but now living in Pretoria.

Prokofiev wrote five piano concertos, of which the third is by far the best known. Bryan Wallick played No. 2 in G minor. It was written in 1913 and is one of the most difficult works in the entire concerto repertory.

Among its challenges are a massive five-minute first movement cadenza, part of it marked Colossale – colossal – by the composer; and a second movement in which the pianist plays about 1,500 semiquavers at high speed, the two hands in unison playing the same notes an octave apart.

Technicalities aside, the first movement has a really haunting main theme, and there are memorable moments elsewhere in the work.

Wallick handled all this with high skill and aplomb, hands flying all over the keyboard, and the orchestra was an admirable partner in this complex music. A remarkable performance, and it was recognised as such by an appreciative audience.

The pianist gave an encore, Rachmaninov’s majestic Prelude in B flat major, Op. 23 No. 2.

For most listeners the surprise of the evening was the Symphony No. 1 by Vasily Kalinnikov, who died of tuberculosis in 1901 just short of his 35th birthday. This was very much in the style of Tchaikovsky, plenty of Russian flavours and a beautiful lyrical theme in the first movement. This melodious music brought forth excellent playing from the orchestra.

The concert opened with one of Brahms’s lesser-known works, the Tragic Overture, written in 1880. - Michael Green