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Friday, February 14, 2020

KZNPO SUMMER SEASON 1ST CONCERT: REVIEW


(Right: Francois Du Toit)

Pianism just flowed out of Du Toit. He knew what to do and was almost oblivious to the orchestra, having an innate sense of the sound production required and the direction the music should take. Review by Dr. Martin Goldstein

The opening concert of the KZNPO Summer Season, 2020, which took place on February 13, set the tone for a more intellectually challenging series. The programme comprised of more thought-provoking works with an emphasis on the late Romantic composers, particularly Brahms. Once again, the much loved and highly motivational conductor, Yasuo Shinozaki, was called upon to open the series.

The orchestra played the Tragic Overture, Op 81 (1880) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); Piano Concerto No 2 in c minor, Op 18 (1901) by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and Symphony No 4, Op 98 in e minor (1885) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). As a tribute to the recently deceased Dr Joseph Shabalala, the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, his descendants performed a number of works.

It is thought that Brahms’ composition of his Tragic Overture might have been prompted by the death of the painter Feuerbach in January of 1880. The work is certainly filled with a sense of unfulfilled longing and melancholy.

The orchestra’s rendition of it got off to a robust but subdued start. The tempo was forthright and there was a good sense of direction. Although the mood was sombre, the orchestra managed to create excitement through the use of effects such as rubarto and ritardando. Also, the upper strings were exuberant in their dotted rhythms. The celebrated Acting Concert Master, Tomas Darragh Morgan, injected new vitality into the upper strings, instilling in them a confident attack. Shinozaki is not a flashy conductor. He has a great sense of timing, knowing how to hold back at the ends of the phrases. Under his guidance, the orchestra felt the suspensions.

Young Mambazo is a choral group which comprises of the descendants of the recently deceased Dr Joseph Shabalala. They paid tribute to their forebear in a moving performance of a few select works. They conjured up the distinctive Mambazo sound with their characteristic bass overtones at the back of the throat. Despite the sombre nature of the occasion, their performance conveyed a sense of optimism. After the opening number, they performed two more songs. The first song had a catchy rhythm with the same characteristic Mambazo sound. All the elements of the performance were in sync: vocal chords, body movements and rhythm. The second song, entitled Heroes, paid tribute to those fallen in the struggle. It began with a prayer-like call and response and had beautiful rich hymn-like chords. They displayed dynamic, traditional Zulu dance moves. Throughout, there was a genuine sense of paying tribute.

Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto was born out of a period of renewed optimism in his life, around 1900. In it, we see luscious harmonies and lyrical melodies which reflect a maturing of his style after his more youthful first symphony of 1895.

In the orchestra’s rendition of the Moderato, one of South Africa’s premier pianists, Fran├žois Du Toit, displayed his innate pianistic touch. The notes just flowed out of him naturally. The orchestra conjured up a mysterious film-set feeling. While Du Toit produced a lovely melody with his right hand, to his credit, both hands often came together, becoming one, and one could not tell them apart. He manufactured a perfectly balanced sound.

In the Adagio sostenuto, Du Toit created a soft, dreamy feel. This merged beautifully with the flute to create a mood of such longing. Du Toit never tried to overpower the orchestra. Again, the excellence of his left-hand touch coupled with his singing right-hand melody revealed itself. His right hand produced a sparkling, ivory-like sound. Du Toit really kept us lingering on the final notes of this movement.

The Allegro scherzando had a bustling start with a Slavic “punch” to it. Again, Du Toit’s glistening touch came to the fore along with the rippling effect of his left hand. Throughout, one felt that Du Toit was completely self-sufficient. Pianism just flowed out of him. He knew what to do and was almost oblivious to the orchestra, having an innate sense of the sound production required and the direction the music should take.

Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 was conceived in the summers of 1883 – 5, at a more mature point in his career. The work encompasses a broad range of emotions and styles, not the least of which is the finale, which is based on the last movement of Bach’s Cantata No. 150.

In the Allegro non troppo, the orchestra displayed great intent. The music flowed nicely with some magnificent, sonorous lines from the cellos and lower strings. The orchestra’s sense of rhythm was thoroughly coherent. Indeed, the upper strings are to be praised on their committed rhythmic attack, as manifested in strong full bows. Notably, the upper strings did much to shape the melody and the rhythm, being ever-attentive to details of phrasing.

The Andante moderato began with the famous, poignant melody. Shinozaki knew how to hold back at the ends of the phrases.

In the Allegro giocoso, again, there were carefully shaped phrases. Also, once again, there was an incredible commitment and enthusiasm in the upper strings who really held the whole thing together. There was a clearly stylized sense of melody in the woodwinds. Throughout, Shinozaki engendered enthusiasm.

The Allegro energico e passionate contains the famous paraphrase of an eight-bar progression from Bach’s Cantata No. 150. The flautist is to be complimented on the lovely, oriental-sounding melody that was one of the highlights of the concert. Shinozaki took on a brave choice of tempo for the faster section towards the end. Also, he did not let the excitement wane throughout the symphony. Throughout, he inspired confidence in the orchestra. – Dr Martin Goldstein

The next three concerts of the KZNPO Summer Season take place on Thursdays (February 20 and 27 and March 5, 2020, at 19h30 in the Durban City Hall. For more information, link direct to the KZN Philharmonic’s website by clicking on the orchestra’s banner advert on the top of the page or visit kznphil.org.za