national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, March 14, 2021


(Right: Conductor: Schalk van der Merwe)

Du Plessis was endowed with peaceful contentedness, allowing each phrase to fill him with surprise and awe. (Review by Dr Martin Goldstein)

The second concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s Virtual Summer Season 2021, which took place on March 11, definitely stepped things up a notch. A varied and exciting programme was performed with sentiments ranging from awe to passion to reverence. The orchestra performed The Hebrides, Op. 26, Fingal’s Cave (1830, revised 1832) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847); Élégie, Op. 24 (1883) by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924); Kol Nidrei, Op. 47 (1880) by Max Bruch (1838-1920) and Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, Unfinished (1822) by Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

In 1829, Mendelssohn’s thoughts turned to a tour of numerous European countries to develop and refine his musical tastes. After completing a concert season in London, he was free to travel. He decided to embark on a walking tour of Scotland. On arriving at Oban on the western coast, looking out at the Hebrides, he had the initial idea for his overture by that name. He visited Fingal’s Cave on the Island of Staffa, a region known for its desolate terrain. This may explain the ominous nature of his musical setting. In the orchestra’s performance of the work, the opening was calm and not too loud. The solo oboist, Johann Ferreira, continued to display the same care in articulation that he did in the first concert of the season. Overall, the tempo was not too fast and the orchestra was not unduly compelled by the underlying excitement and thematic drive. This allowed each motif to tell its own story. Also, the orchestra did not reach the climactic volume too soon. When it did, there was a voluptuous sound. The conductor, Schalk van der Merwe, was highly professional, managing to elicit the desired response from the orchestra.

(Left: Aristide du Plessis)

Fauré’s early style is characterized by his attempts to assimilate the musical language of Late Romanticism. This is seen in the sombre elements of his works from this stylistic period such as La chanson du pêcheur, L’absent or Elégie or the passionate emotion of other works such as Le voyageur, Automne, or the chorus Les djinns. In the orchestra’s performance of Elégie, the opening was sombre. The soloist was one of Durban’s finest cellists, who is also the KZNPO’s Co-Principal Cellist, Aristide du Plessis. His initial entrance on the cello was sublime and he displayed thoughtfulness and calmness in his playing. There was almost a sense of sanctity in his sound with an ethereal purity of tone and intonation. His use of vibrato was not excessive and was in good taste. He focused on telling the story and portrayed the sense of being a traveller searching for meaning. He was never harried and was always at peace with the music, the orchestra and himself. Throughout, there was a sense of regality and dignity in his playing but his sentiment never became self-pitying or self-indulgent. Du Plessis maintained his sense of autonomy throughout. The orchestra portrayed an appropriate sense of pathos and there was some lovely playing in the woodwinds. Van der Merwe was a positive and decisive conductor.

Bruch drew melodic inspiration from folk music, particularly that of countries such as Scotland, Sweden and Russia. In Berlin, he conducted the Stern’scher Gesangverein. Some of the Jewish members of this choir provided him with material that he used in his three Hebrew songs (1888) and his Kol Nidrei. While Bruch was not Jewish, it is clear that he understood the sentiment of this Jewish liturgical material well and his setting convincingly conveys the sanctity and solemnity of the Jewish Day of Atonement, to which the Kol Nidrei belongs. In this work, Van der Merwe showed great sensitivity and awe as a conductor and inspired a sense of solemnity and sanctity in the orchestra. Du Plessis was sympathetic to the music and the rest of the orchestra. He soared above in the higher registers of the cello and savoured the melody and phrase endings. He was endowed with peaceful contentedness, allowing each phrase to fill him surprise and awe.

While the evidence suggests that Schubert initially conceived his B minor symphony in the conventional four movements, various theories are offered as to why he left it in its current two-movement form. An interesting theory that has been put forth is that, in the course of composition, Schubert felt that any addition to the initial two movements was structurally or rhetorically redundant or impossible. In the orchestra’s performance of the Allegro moderato, there was a sense of solemnity and care in the opening theme. Throughout the movement, there was notable individuation in the phrases. The sense of narrative was conceptualised as a whole in terms of the themes in the movement. There was regality in the orchestra with the stately themes. Van der Merwe was an attentive conductor, sensitive to all the nuances of articulation and dynamics. In the Andante con moto, the players maintained the sense of foreboding inherent in this symphony. There was a good sense of large-scale narrative trajectory throughout. – Dr Martin Goldstein

The next virtual concerts will take place on March 18 and 25, 2021. Tickets R200 each. These can be purchased from Quicket ( or call 021 424 9308) To link direct to the KZN Philharmonic’s website click on the orchestra’s banner advert on the top of the page or visit