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Saturday, February 29, 2020


(Left: Jiracek von Arnim)

(Von Arnim was focused on the long-term goal and saw the full trajectory of the music. At the same time, he was also focused on creating the perfect touch. Each note was a carefully manufactured entity. Review by Dr Martin Goldstein)

The third concert of the KZNPO Summer Season, 2020, which took place on February 27, 2020, was part of a worldwide celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Accordingly, much of the programme was devoted to his compositions. The conductor Yasuo Shinozaki, who opened the season, was called upon again to impart his dynamic touch. The orchestra played two works by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), firstly his Coriolan Overture, Op 62 in c minor (1807); then his Piano Concerto No 5, Op 73 in E-flat Major, “Emperor” (1809). The concert ended with Symphony No 7, Op 70 in d minor (1885) by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904).

Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture was an overture to Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s tragedy by that name. The fact that it is in C minor is not incidental. It was a key which he reserved for full-length works of great pathos and turbulent drama.

The orchestra’s performance of it was brisk and crisp with a fast tempo. Throughout, there was a restlessness which Shinozaki managed to keep going. The recurring two-note motifs created much excitement together with the compelling tremolos in the upper strings.

Beethoven completed his fifth piano concerto just before the French invasion of Vienna in 1809 and dedicated the work to Archduke Rudolph. The political climate of the time no doubt played its part in compelling Beethoven to actualise the futility of heroism. This might be suggested by the opening chords of the first movement which seems to celebrate victory before the battle has begun. And yet, the slow movement contains one of the most beautiful melodies Beethoven ever wrote.

The orchestra’s rendition of the work showcased the talent of a suitably chosen pianist, Jiracek von Arnim, who is noted for his interpretations of Beethoven. Since 2011, he has been the Artistic Director and Chairman of the “International Beethoven Piano Competition Vienna”. He is certainly a fitting performer to honour the two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s birth.

In the Allegro, von Arnim displayed his disciplined technique. His playing was characterized by a polished, light touch. There was good rhythmic coordination between the brass and the upper strings. Von Arnim was unpretentious and worked sympathetically with the orchestra to create the right ambience. He was focused on the long-term goal and saw the full trajectory of the music. At the same time, he was also focused on creating the perfect touch. Each note was a carefully manufactured entity. In the Adagio un poco mosso, von Arnim really pulled back. Shinozaki worked with him and the orchestra to conjure up an ethereal beauty. The finale, Rondo: Allegro, was marked by a joyful, dance-like character. Von Arnim displayed impressive, agile scale work. The upper strings matched this with a similar drive and coordination. For his encore, von Arnim performed a work by Schubert with a famous folk melody. Once again, his playing was characterized by a lovely soft touch and notable agility.

Dvořák’s seventh symphony was conceived during a period when his music became more subtle and nuanced than in his first Slavonic period, which drew on elements of Slavonic folklore. Nevertheless, nationalistic elements remain, notably in the 15th-century hymn tune used in the seventh symphony. This period in his career is infused with a dramatic quality with stark, expressive contrasts.

This sentiment was certainly felt in the orchestra’s rendition of the work. The Allegro maestoso was marked by dynamic contrasts throughout. It was dark and brooding in the beginning. Later on, it was splendid and regal or bustling and jolly. The brass rendered an awe-inspiring performance. There were well-coordinated part entrances between the strings and the rest of the orchestra. In the Poco adagio, there was a delicate blossoming sound with finely inter-woven melodies. Again, the contrasts were stark with sudden moments of majesty and grotesque opulence. In the Scherzo: Vivace – poco meno mosso, there was a new freshness with a joyful mood and a sense of optimism and dynamic drive.  In the Finale: Allegro, there was a sense of reminiscence pitted against more glaring contrasts. The mood throughout the work and throughout the concert was one of formal dynamism. – Dr Martin Goldstein

The final concert of the Summer Season will take place next Thursday (March 5, 2020) in the Durban City Hall at 19h30. Booking is through Computicket. To link direct to the KZN Philharmonic’s website click on the orchestra’s banner advert on the top of the page or visit