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Saturday, March 9, 2019


(Olga Kern)

The sheer virtuosity and accuracy which was displayed in Kern’s playing of Grieg’s Piano Concerto was simply remarkable. (Review by A-J Bethke)

The heat and humidity which has plagued KwaZulu-Natal this week has left many of us feeling tired and out of sorts. This feeling of fatigue appeared to affect the orchestra on Thursday. Personally, I feel this is understandable and probably accounts for the inconsistencies which affected the usually impeccable intonation and ensemble of the group.

Despite the problems which surfaced during the performance, conductor and orchestra continued without flailing, but the musical results were mixed. On the one hand there was the moving reading of The Death of Ase from the Peer Gynt Suite in which the strings achieved incredible dynamic sensitivity and controlled phrasing, highlighting their supreme musicality. On the other the delicate texture of Morning suffered problems of balance and intonation. Also, the rather ambitious accelerando of In the Hall of the Mountain King felt overly frenzied and appeared to exacerbate some of the previous ensemble imbalances.

Of Olga Kern’s technical capabilities on the piano there is no doubt. The sheer virtuosity and accuracy which was displayed last night in her playing of Grieg’s Piano Concerto was simply remarkable. She rightly received appropriate applause for her consummate technical prowess. Yet, for a concerto such as this to reach beyond a technical display, there needs to be a rapport with the inner depths of the piece. This seemed to be absent in Thursday’s rendition. In particular, there appeared to be a disruption in the 'conversation' between soloist and orchestra so that at times one felt the two were on different wave lengths.

Dvorak’s first symphony is characteristic of a young composer finding his feet in terms of compositional and orchestral technique. The awkward contrapuntal writing and orchestration evident in the first movement, for example, reveal a composer who is exploring different approaches to compositional problems, some of which are not resolved in the course of the work. Indeed, whether any of the thematic material reaches its full potential is doubtful. But it is for this reason that the work is of interest from a musicological perspective, as it gives the listener a glimpse into the inner workings of a compositional mind as great as Dvorak’s. The difficult part for an orchestra is bringing such a work to life for audiences who are more accustomed to the mature voice of the New World Symphony. Daniel Boico had to work exceptionally hard to bring something meaningful out of this work, and I take my hat off to both him and the orchestra for attempting the piece at all. While their reading was intrepid, I am not convinced that the composition itself was the thrilling climax which is needed to close a summer symphony season. – A-J Bethke

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