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Friday, May 6, 2016


Consistently interesting and enjoyable music, most of it off the beaten track. (Review by Michael Green)

Two outstanding instrumentalists, a Russian and a South African, provided an evening of much pleasure when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Alexander Ramm was born in Vladivostock 28 years ago and educated in Moscow. In just a few years he has established a reputation in Europe as a cellist of the first rank.

Pieter Jacobs, who teaches at Pretoria University, has long been recognised as one of South Africa’s best pianists (he has played in Durban many times). He is a kind of intellectual all-rounder; he has a doctorate in music (from Yale University in the United States) and a doctorate in electronic engineering.

These two gifted players presented a programme of consistently interesting and enjoyable music, most of it off the beaten track.

They opened with the cello sonata in A minor, Op. 35, by Norway’s Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Grieg is a rather underrated composer, in my view, and this sonata must come as an eye-opener to those who think of him as a minor composer of tuneful miniatures. It is a big, vigorous, passionate work, skilfully laid out for both instruments, with both of them equal partners.

Alexander Ramm and Pieter Jacobs gave a forceful, virtuoso performance of this fine work. Ramm produced a beautiful broad tone in the lyrical passages, and Jacobs handled the difficult piano part with great vigour and confidence. The tonal balance of the two instruments was very good at all times.

Claude Debussy’s D minor cello sonata, dating from 1915, brought forth another well-judged performance. This is another fine and subtle composition, very French and very brief; it runs for just over 10 minutes.

A sonata in C minor by the American composer Samuel Barber was probably unknown to most members of the audience. It turned out to be an attractive and accessible works, full of contrasts and surprises.

Finally the duo gave a brilliant presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango. Piazzolla (1921-1992) was the Argentine king of the tango, and in this big piece he combined traditional tango rhythms with touches of jazz and some modern harmonies. A totally stylish performance was acknowledged with enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Alexander Ramm gave an unaccompanied encore, an irresistible cello showpiece by the 20th century Spanish composer Gaspard Cassado.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was Rashalia Pather, a Durban pianist who completed her B Mus degree last year. She gave creditable performances in an ambitious choice of music: the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2, and Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse, written in 1904 after the composer had visited the island of Jersey. - Michael Green