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Friday, June 10, 2016


(Rachel Lee Priday)

Extraordinary performance by young violinist high point of KZN Philharmonic’s fourth concert. (Review by Michael Green)

An extraordinary performance by a young American/Korean violinist was the high point of the fourth concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s winter season, in the Durban City Hall.

The player was Rachel Lee Priday, who was born in Chicago 28 years ago of Korean ancestry. Rachel Lee is her maiden name. Three years ago she married Rory Priday, who is like her a graduate of Harvard University. He is an analyst for a New York investment firm.

The work performed with the orchestra was Niccolo Paganini’s Concerto No. 1 D major, which is widely regarded as one of the most challenging works in the entire violin repertoire. Paganini (Italian, 1782-1840) was a pop star of 200 years ago, a violinist of legendary powers who had a carefully cultivated satanic image: gaunt body, long black hair, wild eyes, sinister.

His first concerto is bold, lyrical, spirited, not very demoniac really, but fiendishly difficult: complex double-stopping of the strings of the violin, quick shifts of key, trills, fast pizzicato phrases, all the tricks of the trade.

The slender, good-looking Rachel Lee handled all this with immense skill and aplomb. She has established a big reputation in the United States, and it is easy to see and hear why. And she is not just a superb technician. For me some of the best moments of the concerto came in Paganini’s lyrical cantabile passages, when the soloist delivered a lovely full, true tone.

She was rewarded at the end with a prolonged ovation from an excited audience.

The orchestra were in fine fettle, here and elsewhere in the programme. The conductor of the evening was another visiting American, Michael Morgan, a musician of substantial quality and experience.

The other big item on the programme was Mendelssohn’s irresistibly cheerful and tuneful Italian Symphony, No. 4 in A major. It was taken at a brisk tempo, with the conductor showing good control and a sympathetic, pleasant temperament.

Two lesser known works completed a programme of highly agreeable nineteenth century music: Schubert’s Overture, Op. 170, called In the Italian Style, and Dvorak’s Nocturne for Strings, Op. 40. The latter started life as a slow movement for an early quartet and in 1883 Dvorak rewrote it for string orchestra. It is calm and beautiful, and the orchestra’s string section, about 40 players, gave a highly skilled, well-balanced performance. - Michael Green

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