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Friday, November 10, 2017


(Keyboard phenomenon Valentina Lisitsa photographed by Gilbert Francois)

Pianist Valentina Lisitsa triumphs in the third Late Spring Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal’s 2017 Word Symphony Series. (Review by William Charlton-Perkins)

She came. She played. She conquered. Ukrainian-American pianist Valentina Lisitsa - the first classical artist who, in less than a decade, has converted her uncanny internet success (50 million hits and counting on Youtube) into a triumphant career spanning great concert halls across the globe - has taken Durban’s concert going public by storm, and she has captured all hearts.

Rightly so. In an age that has spawned bogus or ultra-flamboyant celebrities the likes of showman Andre Rieu and piano whiz Lang Lang, it is indeed gratifying to honour the integrity of this genuine artist. Lisitsa is a super gifted and honest musician whose youthful appearance belies the four decades she has spent working at honing her art through diligence and hard work. She neither seeks to impose her persona on her public, nor on the music that she so magnificently interprets.

Her technical command of the piano is awe-inspiring. It encompasses barnstorming keyboard virtuosity of the highest order, boasting a massive tonal spectrum that ranges from the most ferociously dispatched fortissimo climaxes to the dying cadence of the finest wisp of a pianissimo phrase. Ms Lisitsa’s formidable artistic arsenal was brought to bear in her performance of Rachmaninoff’s ubiquitous Piano Concerto No 2, one of her signature works, in the Durban City Hall on Thursday (November 9).

In this she was superbly partnered by the conductor Justus Frantz at the helm of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra who, to the last player, were on top form throughout the evening. Collectively they achieved the near-impossible feat of making Rachmaninoff’s effulgence of sentiment and the crowd-pleasing rigor of this well-tried chestnut sound new and fresh.

The storm of applause that greeted its conclusion was richly deserved, as was the audience’s whole-hearted response to both the opening and the closing items on the programme. These offered a life-enhancing performance of Smetana’s great paean to nature and his homeland, From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests from Ma Vlast; and an all-enveloping re-encounter with the far-flung perspectives of another of the concert repertoire’s staples, Dvorak’s ever-fresh New World Symphony.

It seems invidious to single out key moments for special mention in either work, but the rumbustious jollity overflowing with sheer happiness in the peasant dance in the Smetana was immensely endearing; while the rapturous beauty of the oboe, swelling then dissolving as it wistfully introduced the famous air of longing conveyed in the second movement passage of the Dvorak was almost unbearably poignant. As was the tender loveliness of the hushed clarinet and glowing French horn in response, picked up by the silken sounds of the strings’ quiet balm.

Hats off to Maestro Frantz et al for a masterly evening of music-making. – William Charlton-Perkins.

(To link direct to the KZN Philharmonic’s website click on the orchestra’s banner advert on the top right hand of the page)