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Friday, August 23, 2019


(Above: Daniel Raiskin)

Hou brought a special vibrancy to the concert which made the evening into an awe-inspiring experience. (Review by Dr Martin Goldstein)

The KZNPO’s early spring season got off to a good start with its opening concert which took place on August 22, 2019. It featured three lovely works by fairly well-known composers. The programme got off to a luscious start with an enchanting work by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), Pelléas et Mélisande, Op 80: Suite (1898). This was followed by an ominous and awe-inspiring work by Max Bruch (1838-1920), his Violin Concerto No 1, Op. 26 in g minor (1866), revised (1867). The concert concluded with aplomb with a popular and fairly well-known work by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), his Symphony No. 8, Op 88 in G Major (1889).

Fauré’s style bridges the gap between Late Romanticism and the early 20th century. He is perhaps more commonly known for his ethereal setting of the Pie Jesu. During his frequent trips to London for private festivals organised by friends during 1892-1900, he was commissioned to write incidental music for Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1898). The original version was for a small orchestra and was orchestrated by Koechlin, apparently because Fauré was overworked during this time. All the same, Fauré later fashioned it into a masterful, full-blown orchestral suite.

The KZNPO’s rendition of it can be described as being luscious with beautiful gliding seventh chords which crystallized in the harp. The acclaimed conductor, Daniel Raiskin, instilled a sense of calm in the orchestra. He was clearly more focused on the quality of the sound produced by the orchestra and the narrative it portrayed rather than on producing loud, flashy playing.

Bruch wrote his first violin concerto during the time that he was music director to the court at Koblenz from 1865 to 1867. This work has defined Bruch’s legacy more than any other. He associated with the finest violinists of his era, the likes of David, Joachim, Sarasate and Willy Hess and it is certain that the advice he received from them shaped his approach to composing for the instrument.

(Left: Susanne Hou)

The phenomenal solo violinist, Susanne Hou, has definitely created a legacy of her own, having won numerous prestigious competitions and having received a list of accolades. Her performance with the KZNPO left us all in awe. Her manner was unassuming and she made her virtuosic playing look effortless. She produced a crystal-clear tone without relying on excessive vibrato. The orchestra, in turn, imbued this work with great vivaciousness throughout and the woodwinds were certainly on top form. Hou brought a special vibrancy to the concert which made the evening into an awe-inspiring experience. For her encore, Hou played a stirring collection of traditional Chinese folk melodies which certainly demonstrated her depth both as a performer and as a person.

Dvořák wrote his eighth symphony during a time when he was on the ascent to international fame. This came about largely thanks to the favourable reception he received during his visits to England. Indeed, he gave a performance of his eighth symphony in London in April 1890. While continental politics had not been in his favour in Germany and Austria, England acknowledged his artistic worth and it was there that he was able to freely express his identity as a Czech composer. This period also revealed a more poetic side to his compositional style. The KZNPO was at ease with the symphony’s bustling contrapuntal texture and it was clear that Raiskin had engendered a sense of calm and direction throughout. – Dr Martin Goldstein

The next three concerts of the season take place at 19h30 in the City Hall on August 29 (not as previously advertised in the Playhouse Opera), September 5 and 12.

(To link direct to the KZN Philharmonic’s website click on the orchestra’s banner advert on the top of the page or visit