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Friday, October 27, 2017


(William Charlton-Perkins)

Playing the classics of old anew. (Article courtesy of The Mercury – October 27, 2017)

Following this week’s hiatus in our symphony season (the KZNPO were in Johannesburg for their annual joint concert appearances with the JPO), German maestro Justus Frantz returns to the Durban City Hall podium on Thursday November 2 with a programme devoted to those tragically short-lived giants of the early Viennese school, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) and Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828).

Proceedings start with the overture to Mozart’s comic opera, Le nozze di Figaro, a work of incomparable genius. The overture was written several weeks after the rest of the miraculous score had been completed and rehearsals were already underway. With the headlong rush of its D-Major presto hardly pausing to take breath, it generates a pulse-quickening sense of anticipation that swiftly led to its fame as a stand-alone curtain-raiser in the concert hall.

The evening’s centre-piece is the fifth and last of the violin concertos Mozart wrote in Salzburg between 1773 and 1775. As these fine works were conceived on a more intimate scale than the magnificent series of piano concertos the composer wrote in Vienna a few years later, they might be seen to occupy the foothills of his concerto oeuvre, rather than its great mountain peaks. They are nonetheless works of superb intricacy and balance, none more so than his A Major Concerto K219 which provides an engaging platform to introduce widely admired violinist Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne, winner of numerous prizes including the prestigious BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition.

The evening climaxes with a performance of Schubert’s Symphony No 9 in C Major D944, often dubbed ‘The Great C major’ to distinguish it from his so-called ‘Little Symphony’ (No 6 in C major). The composer never heard his magnum opus performed: the work only had its posthumous premiere more than a decade after Schubert’s death. In 1838 Robert Schumann was shown the manuscript of the symphony by Schubert’s brother, Ferdinand. He took a copy back to Leipzig, where the entire work was performed publicly for the first time by Felix Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 21 March 1839. It soon went on to claim its rightful reputation as one of the giants of the symphonic repertoire.

Maestro Frantz returns to the podium on November 9, for a programme of Czech and Russian classics, featuring music by Smetana, Rachmaninoff and Dvořák. Smetana’s Má vlast, a suite of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879, depicts some aspect of the countryside, history, or legends of Bohemia. Šárka, the third piece, is named for the female warrior who is a central figure in the ancient Czech legend of The Maidens' War. Šárka deceives the princely knight Ctirad into believing she is an unwilling captive of the rebelling women. After serving Ctirad and his comrades with drugged mead, Šárka sounds a hunting horn, summoning to the other women. The poem ends with the warrior maidens murdering the sleeping men.

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor premiered in 1901 with the composer as soloist. The archetypal virtuoso warhorse, emblazoned with late Romantic flourishes and passionate melodies, it established Rachmaninoff’s fame as a concerto composer. It passed into popular culture, featuring in the soundtracks of countless films, ranging from Grand Hotel (1932) starring Greta Garbo, to Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter (2010).

Both on the concert stage and in the recording studio, the work has been the calling card of the keyboard virtuosi down the ages, from the composer himself, to modern day icons such as Britain’s Stephen Hough, and our extraordinary guest soloist, the Ukrainian-American Valentina Lisitsa. One of the new generation of superstars currently in demand on the global classical music circuit, Lisitsa launched her career totally unaided by agents, as is the norm, by becoming a sensation on Youtube, where videos of her performances and recordings have attracted more than 50 million hits. Her Durban debut is eagerly anticipated.

The evening ends with a performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No.9, Op.95, E Minor ‘From The New World’, written in 1893 while he was director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. One of the most popular of all symphonies, its premiere with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall was one of the greatest public triumphs of Dvorak's career.

Musicologists have noted the composer’s fascination with American musical influences that surface in the score, including African American spirituals and plantation songs of the American South, and, in the segments of the third movement scherzo, traces of the Native American ‘Song of Hiawatha’, which evoke the Native American wedding feast.

The KZNPO’s symphony concerts start at 19h30. Booking is through Computicket. To secure season subscriptions at reduced rates, call 031-369 9348, or email  – William Charlton-Perkins