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Saturday, June 8, 2019


(Left: Yasuo Shinozaki)

Romanticism at its best in a superb performance. (Review by Andrew-John Bethke)

Thursday night’s concert programme – the second in the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s Winter Symphony Season was conducted by Yasuo Shinozaki and featured cellist Alexander Ramm as the soloist.

It was a feast of Romanticism, encompassing masterpieces from the early 19th century, right through to the era’s late flowering.

Weber’s Overture to Der Freisch├╝tz, the composer’s all-time hit, opened the concert, enthralling the audience with its colourful orchestration and magical musical murmurings. Tight playing from the orchestra ensured that the magical bullets of the freisch├╝tz met their mark. Particularly notable was the “bubbling” effect the lower strings and woodwinds achieved in the middle of the overture, conjuring a witch’s magical cauldron – a technique that Berlioz would later use in his Symphonie Fantastique.

Last year, the world commemorated one hundred years since the end of the First World War – an apocalyptic series of conflicts which changed the face of Europe. Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a musical reflection of the engulfing sadness and melancholy which sat like a pall over the world in the aftermath of the war. Perhaps the work’s most poignant statement is that nobody emerged as a real victor of the war – there was just too much loss. 

(Right: Alexander Ramm)

Alexander Ramm managed to evoke this profound sense of grief in his interpretation of the work. The difficulty any cellist faces with this piece is competing against a large orchestra. Yet, the team work between Ramm and Shinozaki ensured that the soloist was not overpowered. In fact, it seemed as though the mastery of the soloist and flexibility of the conductor combined to inspire an equally moving accompaniment from the orchestra itself.

It is not difficult to see why Yasuo Shinozaki is so popular in Finland and how it is that he performed so well in the Second International Sibelius Competition. His command of Sibelius’ First Symphony on Thursday evening showed just how confident he is in bringing a unique voice to this music.

Sibelius wrote this symphony in his 30’s. It is a relatively early work, and shows some of the unique characteristics which appear in Finlandia (written in the same year). For example, some of the darker colours of the orchestration such as employing the rich tones of the lower horn register, bassoons and lower strings. There are distinct echoes of Finlandia throughout the symphony showing that the political and social context in which the works were written are hallmarks for this period.

The programme notes gave the impression that the entire symphony has a melancholic disposition, and while this is generally true, Shinozaki brought a warmth to the interpretation which is seldom heard. He also cultivated a strong rapport with the orchestra which paid off in several ways: a generally unified ensemble throughout the work; full buy-in from the whole orchestra in the interpretation; and unanimous entries. A superb performance!  - Andrew-John Bethke

(The next two concerts of the season take place in the City Hall at 19h30 on June 13 and 20, 2019. To link direct to the KZN Philharmonic’s website click on the orchestra’s banner advert on the top of the page)