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Tuesday, November 17, 2020


(The Gypsy Strings: Annamaria D’Andrea, Ralitza Pechoux & Ralitza Macheva with Stephane Perchoux)

Macheva’s musical intellect was freed from the physical constraints of the playing. (Review by Dr Martin Goldstein)

The second Friends of Music concert of the new season, which took place on Sunday November 15, 2020, featured the much-celebrated local ensemble The Gypsy Strings. The musicians, who are all members of the KZNPO, perform a range of gypsy-style music. The quartet is led by violinist Ralitza Macheva from Bulgaria. The viola player is Annamaria D’Andrea from Italy. The cellist is Ralitza Pechoux, also from Bulgaria. The percussionist is Stephane Perchoux. The ensemble was accompanied by acclaimed local pianist Christopher Duigan who held the whole thing together masterfully with his characteristically sensitive and in-tune playing.

In the first half of the programme, they performed Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, op. 90 (the Dumky, 1890-91, B166) by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). In the second half, they performed several shorter works related to the gypsy idiom. They performed Tango / Serenata / Rhumba by the American composer Michael McLean; Vilia Song from The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár (1870-1948); Moldovanke (Romanian Folk Song); Hungarian Dance No 5 by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); Birthday Rag by Matthew Naughtin (1947 - ); Realtor Ripple by George Gershwin (1898-1937); Liebertango by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992); Por una Cabeza by Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) and Csardas by Michael McLean.

Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor emerged during a period in his career when he began to display a more poetic side to his composition. He began to focus on more programmatic works and would in due course turn to genres such as the symphonic poem. These more literary elements began to emerge with works such as the Poetic Tone pictures (1889), the Dumky Trio (1890-91) and the overtures opp.91-3. Indeed, as Macheva explained during the ensemble’s performance of this work, each movement of the Dumky Trio is based on a Czech folk song. In the ensemble’s performance of this work, in the Lento maestoso - Allegro quasi doppio movimento, Pechoux portrayed “expansiveness” on the cello and the duo did not crowd each other out. Duigan joined the ensemble naturally. In the Poco adagioVivace non troppo, the ability of the performers to come together to form a sound entity was notable. The cello instilled a sense of excitement in the violin and the two played off each other’s energies. In the AndanteVivace non troppo, Duigan was attentive to the sound quality he produced. Macheva’s singing melodies stood out in this movement. In the Andante moderatoAllegretto scherzando, Duigan succeeded in producing an extremely delicate sound. The cellist came to the fore in this movement. In the AllegroMeno mosso, there was considerable attentiveness to the finer details of articulation. In the Lento maestoso - Vivace, there was a sense of longing contrasted with excitement.

For the second half of the programme, the ladies donned colourful, gypsy-style costumes which were their handiwork. These consisted of stylishly-cropped gold dresses and characteristically-gypsy hooped earrings. In the Tango of the McLean, Duigan is to be commended for his improvisation as a piano part for this work has not been published. The ensemble played with great pizzazz and there was a genuine enjoyment of the idiom. Macheva played with passion and led the ensemble, even going so far as to produce various vocal interjections characteristic of the idiom. In the Serenata, the percussionist Stephane Perchoux contributed much. Macheva had an innate sense of the gypsy-idiom melody with the necessary rubato and the performers actualised the syncopated rhythm well. In the Rhumba, the sense of suspense and surprise was well-conveyed.

In the Lehár, Macheva’s beautiful tone was highly expressive.

In the Romanian Folk Song (Moldovanke), the percussionist used castanets to good effect. There was a haunting melody around the gypsy scale with its characteristic chromatic inflections and a soulful Romanian ambience.

The Brahms had a suitably-devised percussion introduction. Indeed, all of the works were greatly enhanced by the percussionist, who is to be commended for his contribution. Macheva had autonomy over the rhythm during the famous lyrical chorus.

(Christopher Duigan)

Naughtin’s Birthday Rag was a fitting number as it was Duigan’s birthday.

In the Gershwin, there was strength and rhythmic integrity and rubato was used tastefully. The rhythm and melody flowed easily in Macheva’s playing which was well-complimented by the percussionist.

In the Piazzolla, Macheva gave valuable insights regarding performance practice. The performers coped well with the considerable difficulty of this piece without compromising on rhythmic accuracy and Macheva was still able to relish the more melodious sections.

In the Gardel, the percussive bells conjured up a gypsy-like atmosphere. All three string instrumentalists brought their contrasting personalities to the performance creating a healthy ensemble.

In the final work of the programme, the second work by McLean, Csardas, there was soulful double-stopping in the violin. Macheva had time to look up in each item and reflect on the music she was producing. Her musical intellect was freed from the physical constraints of the playing. Duigan’s sensitive touch was felt in the glissandi endings. Macheva displayed agility in the gypsy-like articulation and melodies. The tightness of the rhythm was maintained by the percussionist. The clapping and vocal interjections added to the authenticity of the performance and the audience even joined in with the clapping. It was a true cultural celebration.

For the encore, a free-spirited number was chosen. The performers understood that music should be a spontaneous interaction between the audience and the performers.

(Xizhi Aiden Luo)

The Prelude performance featured highly talented siblings Xizhi Aiden Luo (9 years old) and Weien Amy Luo (12 years old). They both performed on the piano and the violin. Aiden performed Puccettino nella Giungla by N Rota on the piano and Fantasia, The Boy Paganini in E by Mollenhauer on the violin accompanied by his sister on the piano. Amy performed Sonata in G Minor, Rondo by Beethoven on the piano and then Czardas by V. Monti on the violin accompanied by Christopher Duigan on the piano. 

For his piano number, Aiden played with much feeling. He displayed the ability to convey many contrasting sentiments with a nice light touch. For his violin number, it was notable that he could already play in the higher positions on the violin at such a young age. On the piano, Amy was in time with her brother without being overbearing and the two produced a well-coordinated ensemble. Aiden displayed a palette of techniques including pizzicato and string-crossing.

(Weien Amy Luo)

On the piano, Amy displayed excellent left-hand agility with the Alberti bass and well-sculpted phrases in the right hand. She was attentive to the nuances of the dynamics and displayed strength and positivity in her playing. For her violin number, Amy displayed the ability to effect subtle changes in her bowing articulation. She produced a lovely singing tone in the higher registers and good finger agility. She displayed the same attentiveness to phrase endings in the violin as in the piano, indicating an intuitive musicality. Duigan lent strength to her performance. She displayed a wide palate of techniques for such a young performer including well-executed double-stopping and position changes in the higher registers. It seems certain that both she and her brother will continue to enrich the music scene both locally and abroad – Dr Martin Goldstein 

For more information on Friends of Music concerts visit or contact Keith on 071 505 1021.