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Saturday, September 7, 2019


(Left:Conductor Daniel Boico)

Hoffman played with a dignified melancholy and solemnity. (Review by Dr Martin Goldstein)

The third concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s early spring season on September 5, 2019, proved that a carefully compiled concert programme can create for interest and variety. The mood set by such a programme was both exotic and dignified. The exotic tone was set by the first work, the Capriccio Espagnol, Op 34 (1887) by Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). This was followed by a surprisingly sombre work for a French composer, The Élégie, Op 24 (1883) by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). The predominance of Russian works in this programme was confirmed by two works by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), firstly his Variations on a Rococo Theme Op 33 (1876-1877), Fitzenhagen version and then his Symphony No 2, Op 17 in c minor, “Little Russian” (1872-1873).

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol came about during a time of artistic uncertainty in the composer’s life. After the success of The Snow Maiden (1880-1881), he felt he had reached an artistic zenith and that his inspiration had died out. Without any new operatic project on the horizon, he occupied himself with instrumental music. Of the instrumental works that he produced around this time, which included the Piano Concerto, the Fantasia on Two Russian Themes for violin and orchestra and The Little Russian Fantasia, he felt that the Capriccio Espagnol was one of the finest examples of orchestrational virtuosity which he had been able to conjure up. 

In the KZNPO’s performance of this work, the acclaimed conductor, Daniel Boico, brought out hitherto unseen energy and vitality in the orchestra’s playing. He set a tempo which was definitely not too slow for such an energetic work. The scintillating playing and extreme vitality in the opening section were juxtaposed against a dignified poise in the more lyrical sections.

(Right: Soloist Gary Hoffman)

Fauré’s Élégie was born out of an earlier period in the composer’s life when he felt the need to pour out his inner pathos. His later music is more concerned with the careful use of compositional devices. The KZNPO brought across this sombre mood from the outset and the renowned cellist, Gary Hoffman, displayed great agility in the string-crossing. Overall, the mood was sombre but not too morbid.

In the domain of concertante works for solo instruments, Tchaikovsky was never entirely at ease. In this regard, he sought out the advice of the notable soloists of his day. The current Fitzenhagen version of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme represents his acquiescence to the demands of the cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, for whom he composed the work in 1876. 

In their performance of this work, the KZNPO created a sense of quaint elegance. Hoffman played with a dignified melancholy and solemnity. He was focused on careful phrase cultivation. For his encore, he played the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No 3, BWV 1009. This showcased his ability to play convincingly in contrasting genres.

Tchaikovsky is known for his use of Slavic folksongs in his works. Indeed, in his Second Symphony, he uses folksong in three of the four movements. Notably, in the final movement, he uses the folksong The Crane, subjecting it to intensive contrapuntal treatment.

In the KZNPO’s performance of this work, Boico brought about sensitive coordination of the contrapuntal interplay between the parts. Indeed, he was very much at one with the orchestra and it almost felt as though he had become one of the players. In the Finale. Moderato assai – Allegro vivo, the brass was resplendent, bringing to life Tchaikovsky’s awe-inspiring modal chords. – Dr Martin Goldstein

(The final concert of the KZNPO’s Early Spring Season takes place next Thursday, (September 12, 2019) which takes the form of the National Youth Concerto Festival conducted by Lykele Temmingh. The festival nurtures the flowering of new-generation musical talent on the South African cultural landscape)

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