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Saturday, March 5, 2016


(Alexei Ogrintchouk)

One of the most remarkable performances I can recall at a KZNPO concert. (Review by Michael Green)

For an oboe player to be the star turn of a symphony concert is distinctly unusual, but this was the case in the third concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s summer season, in the Durban Playhouse.

Moreover, the oboist doubled as conductor for the evening, and proved to be as deft with the baton as he was with his wind instrument.

The musician concerned is 30-year-old Alexei Ogrintchouk, who was born in Russia, musically educated in Moscow and Paris, and is now reckoned to be one of the best oboists in the world. He is the principal oboist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and he has also built an international reputation as a soloist.

In the Durban concert he played a 10-minute Oboe Concerto in E flat major by Vincenzo Bellini, a celebrated opera composer of two centuries ago (he died in 1835 at the age of 33). The oboe can have a rather reedy tone, but Ogrintchouk transformed this into a beautiful bel canto singing effect, and in the final movement he gave a rapid virtuoso display. In addition he conducted the orchestra in the few available moments left to him.

All this captivated the large audience, who responded with applause, whistles and cheers. Altogether this was one of the most remarkable performances I can recall at a KZNPO concert.

The other unusual item on the programme was Dvorak’s Serenade for Wind Instruments, Op. 44, played by 11 members of the orchestra (wind players with a little help from cello and double bass).

Like all Dvorak’s music, this was agreeable and attractive, but more of a curiosity than a memorable composition. The performance was excellent, with Junnan Sun outstanding on the clarinet.

Ogrintchouk the conductor was a dynamic figure in the early Mozart symphony, No. 24 in B flat major, that opened the concert. He showed an energetic, brisk, smiling manner, and he conveyed his obvious enthusiasm not only to the players but to the audience as well.

This sense of wholehearted commitment produced another fine performance in the main work of the evening, Haydn’s magnificent Symphony No. 104 (his last), which was hailed as a masterwork at its first performance in London 220 years ago, an opinion that the world has endorsed ever since. - Michael Green