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Friday, March 18, 2016


(David Salleras & Christopher Duigan)

Concert creates general atmosphere of joyous festivity. (Review by Michael Green)

The American composer George Gershwin, who died in 1937 aged 38, seems to be flavour of the month in Durban. The Pretoria pianist Charl du Plessis played several Gershwin pieces in a recital for the Friends of Music and a few days later the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, in the penultimate concert of their summer season, devoted most of the programme to Gershwin’s music.

Both occasions generated great enthusiasm among the listeners, and it was particularly gratifying to see a full house in the City Hall for the orchestra’s concert.

Gershwin’s music, melodious and rhythmical, jazzy and traditional, has an irresistible appeal for most people, and when played by a big orchestra and brilliant soloists it is at times quite overwhelming. The City Hall audience certainly felt that way, judging by the applause and whistles, shouting and cheering.

Conducted by the visiting American James Ross, the orchestra opened with An American in Paris, Gershwin’s vivid portrayal of Paris in the 1920’s. Ross is a conductor who obviously enjoys his work, he smiles often, and the players responded in like fashion.

The second item was a total contrast, a concerto called Cyber Bird by the contemporary Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu. This brought to the stage three soloists: the Spanish saxophonist David Salleras, Christopher Duigan, piano, and Stephane Pechoux, a member of the orchestra, percussion.

The three movement work is an interesting and accessible fusion of western and eastern music, with David Salleras’s saxophone dominating the proceedings; the piano was sometimes barely audible. Salleras is an exceptional player, and he contributed an encore written by himself, an extraordinary Caprice that he had played earlier at a Friends of Music recital.

A brief tuneful item by the 85-year-old South African composer Theo Bophela was performed by four singers and a saxophonist, with the composer’s son at the piano, and it was received with happiness and appreciation by the audience.

We went back to Gershwin with his most famous composition, Rhapsody in Blue. Here Christopher Duigan had the opportunity to show what a good pianist he is, handling the difficult score with thrilling skill.

Finally the orchestra played Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, a 25-minute work by Robert Russell Bennett (another American), based on Gershwin’s famous opera. Rather diffuse and over-long, but it was a treat to hear Bess, You is My Woman Now played with passion by a full orchestra.

Numerous speeches and announcements meant that the concert ended 40 minutes later than usual but nobody seemed to mind, and the general atmosphere was one of joyous festivity. - Michael Green