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Friday, February 19, 2016


(Wolfram Christ. Photo by Reiner Pfisterer)

Orchestra in splendid form under Wolfram Christ’s baton. (Review by Michael Green)

Two big works by Johannes Brahms were the main items in the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s first concert of the summer season, in the Durban City Hall.

The Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello runs for about 35 minutes and is not played very often, partly because it calls for two highly accomplished soloists and partly because it is not quite as accessible for audiences as most of this master’s output.

It is complex and serious, but it is fine and memorable music, all of which was admirably presented in this KZNPO performance. The soloists were both South Africans, Pieter Schoeman, violin, and Anmari van der Westhuizen, violin, and the conductor was the distinguished German musician Wolfram Christ.

Born and educated in South Africa, Pieter Schoeman is now the leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Anmari is a Stellenbosch graduate who is now a music professor at the University of the Free State.

Both are outstanding players, and they handled the difficulties of Brahms’s score with calm and conviction, while extracting maximum value from the power and beauty of the music. The slow movement in particular brought forth lovely, eloquent playing.

Under Wolfram Christ’s baton the orchestra were in splendid form, with a performance that drew enthusiastic applause from the big audience.

The second major work of the evening was Brahms’s Symphony No 2, which runs for about 40 minutes. This is Brahms in a relaxed mood – he wrote the work while spending a summer at an Austrian lakeside town – and Wolfram Christ guided the orchestra through a subtle yet forceful interpretation, again much to the pleasure of the audience. He is a restrained type of conductor but he certainly obtains the required result, in this case big sound from a big orchestra.

The concert opened with Carl Maria von Weber’s delightful overture to his opera Oberon, first produced in London in 1826. Weber conducted the first performances but collapsed and died a few weeks later, aged 39, one of the many composers who didn’t make it to 40. Others included Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bizet and George Gershwin. Short lives, big achievements. - Michael Green