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Friday, February 22, 2019


(Conductor Bernhard Gueller)

Concert provided listeners with a studied and measured reading of three beloved works by two iconic composers. (Review by Andrew-John Bethke)

The second concert in the summer season of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s World Series on Thursday (February 22, 2019) conducted by Bernhard Gueller provided listeners with a studied and measured reading of three beloved works by two iconic composers. The programme wisely placed the Mozart Magic Flute Overture and Jupiter Symphony in the first half, reserving the symphonically scaled second Brahms piano concerto for the second. The advantage of keeping the Mozart works together was that the gossamer textures inherent in these Classical compositions were undisturbed by the thickness of Brahms’ late Romantic idiom.

The outer movements of the Jupiter were exquisitely proportioned and phrased, bringing the Classical ideals of balance to the fore, no doubt due to Bernhard Gueller’s meticulous musicianship. Worthy of note was the attention to phrase ends by the strings throughout the first movement, giving a sense of grace and lightness which the work requires.

Mozart was a master at writing for the woodwind section (including the horns) and this is particularly evident in both the Overture and the Symphony. The orchestra’s woodwinds seemed to revel in this idiomatic writing, creating a blend which was commendable. The monumental fourth movement of the symphony was particularly striking in yesterday’s reading. The clarity of playing and ensemble revealed the ingenuity of Mozart’s contrapuntal genius. Unfortunately, the Classical poise which was so evident in the outer movements was not as disciplined in the second and third movements. In particular, the balance between the strings and the rest of the orchestra suffered somewhat in sections of the second movement.

(Pallavi Mahidhara)

Brahms’ concerto is more of a symphony for piano and orchestra rather than a conventional concerto. The sheer stamina, let alone technique, required of the pianist to play the four distinctive movements is formidable. Pallavi Mahidhara proved more than adequate for this task. She brought a tenderness to the work, which seems to be foregrounded by female pianists (for example, Grimaud), thus revealing to the listener a different side of an otherwise muscular Brahmsian style.

Indeed, she brought a sense of the clarity of the Mozart of the first half, into the more emotionally charged second. Perhaps this shows where her forte as a pianist naturally lies. Her intense musicality was revealed in parts of the third movement when her effortless playing echoed the sensitivity displayed between solo ‘cello and woodwinds. The lightness of her technique balanced the finale with the heroic and turbulent opening movements, again revealing aspects of Brahms’ writing which can be overshadowed by mere bravura. Her encore, Liszt’s Liebestraum, left the audience longing for a solo recital at some stage in the future which could display more of her startling talents. - Andrew-John Bethke

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(Pallavi Mahidhara will be giving a recital for Friends of Music on February 26, 2019, at 19h30 at the Durban Jewish Centre. Tickets at the door)