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Saturday, June 1, 2019


(Edith Peña)

We can be grateful to have the KZNPO right here in Durban. Access to live music like this is both a joy and a privilege. (Review by Andrew-John Bethke)

The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s winter season began on Thursday evening with two momentous works: Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto (op. 15) and Dvořák’s 7th Symphony.

The Brahms Concerto is a titanic piece demanding incredible technique from the soloist. It is a marvel that a composer in his twenties could write such magisterial music which plumbs the depths of expression but balances this with the demands of musical form. While the concerto is recognised today as the work of a genius, it is not difficult to see how contemporary critics found it dissonant and overbearing. They did not have the voluptuous and intensely charged works of the late 19th century to temper their ears, as we do.

Those brave enough to attempt this work are up against generations of definitive interpretations and legendary performances. It was courageous, then, of Edith Peña to break the mould and provide a reflective reading of the work. As a result of this decision, the tempi of the outer movements appeared to be slower than usual. The unhurried pace opened up some of the characteristically dense Bramsian texture, allowing the listener to hear aspects of the rich harmony which otherwise occur too quickly to consciously absorb. Yet, for all this clarity, both the first and third movements lacked the vitality and strength they require. The result was that it sometimes felt as though the orchestra wanted to rush the soloist into a faster tempo. The second movement, though, was a delicate and precise reading in which orchestra and soloist worked incredibly well together to beguile the audience.

The summer season closed with Dvořák’s first attempt at the symphonic genre. What a contrast between that work and his 7th Symphony! This later symphony shows all the traits of a confident composer who has mastered the arts of orchestration and symphonic form. The contrast in the orchestral writing between the early symphony and this one is clearly audible in how the rather departmental approach to the orchestra has given way to a truly unified orchestral instrument in which the combination of colours gives new meaning to the notes themselves.

Lykele Temmingh achieved a great deal with the orchestra in this symphony on Thursday. Despite his restrained conducting style, he garnered from the players both power and expressiveness in equal measure. In fact, in each successive movement the orchestra seemed to grow in stature and confidence, so that the finale was riveting. The blend evident in the woodwind section merits particular mention. The warmth and precision they attained gave the symphony a glowing ambiance.

We can be grateful to have the KZNPO right here in Durban. Access to live music like this is both a joy and a privilege. - Andrew-John Bethke

(The next concerts of the KZN Philharmonic’s World Symphony Series Winter Season take place on June 6, 13 and 20, 2019. For more information click on the KZNPO’s advert at the top of this page or visit