Friends of Music Recitals 2010
30 November 2010 - KZNPO Chamber Ensemble
This was an unusual and outstanding concert presented by ten gifted musicians before a large and appreciative audience at the Durban Jewish Centre.
The outcome was a resounding success. The Beethoven Septet is written for string quartet, clarinet, bassoon and horn. It is a six-movement, 40-minute work that is light-hearted and full of good tunes, with plenty of opportunity for the players to demonstrate their individual skills.
This they did in convincing fashion. The starring role was undoubtedly that of the violinist Elena Kerimov, who played with a consistently accurate and full tone and with a vigour and energy that exactly suited the mood of the music. Her husband, the cellist Boris Kerimov, also caught the ear and the eye, especially in the beautiful cello melody in the fifth movement.
Sorin Mircea Osorhean, horn, made the most of the often brilliant and humorous interventions assigned to his instrument.
The other players were David Snaith (viola), Ian Holloway (clarinet) and Vessela Minkova (bassoon). The rapport among the performers was excellent, with immaculate timing and well-judged balance of tone. And they all seemed to derive much enjoyment from playing the work.
Incidentally, if the theme of the third movement seemed familiar to many listeners it was because Beethoven used the same tune in a piano sonata, Op. 49 No 2, that is known to almost everybody who has learned the piano.
Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D, Op. 70, was named Souvenir de Florence by the composer because he spent a very happy time in that beautiful city. The first movement is so vigorous as to be almost violent, but then the music calms down, and the second movement has a blissful melody that is unmistakably Tchaikovsky.
A fine work, and it was very well played by Elena Kerimova and Geza Kayser (violins), David Snaith and Annamaria D’Andrea (violas) and Boris Kerimov and Ralitsa Todorova (cellos).
All the 10 players in the concert are imports who have come here to play in the KZNPO. Three are from England, two from Russia, two from Bulgaria, one from Italy, one from Austria and one from Romania. The concert was, among other things, evidence of the enormous contribution made by musicians from Europe to our musical life in South Africa.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was Ndumiso Nyoka, a young tenor of talent and great promise. Accompanied by Dana Hadjiev at the piano, he sang three well-chosen songs by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. He sang expressively, with accurate phrasing, and he showed a good sense of style.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
23 November 2010 - Piano Passion
The piano still has a drawing power unequalled by any other instrument in classical music. On a wet night about 250 people, turned up at the Durban Jewish Centre for this concert presented by the Friends of Music. It was one of the largest audiences ever to attend a Friends of Music event.
The concert was labelled Piano Passion, and this was no more than the truth. Six pianists gave a programme of music written for two, three and even four simultaneous piano parts, the composers ranging from Mozart to Astor Piazzolla.
The pianists were: Andrew Warburton, who lectures in music and is well known as a performer; Liezl-Maret Jacobs, likewise; Christopher Cockburn, a lecturer who regularly performs as an organist and an accompanist; Jacques Heyns, employed at UKZN as an accompanist; and Lloyd Blackbeard and Brady Wen, both third-year electronic engineering students who are, in addition, working toward a performer’s licentiate in piano. Busy people.
The programme note did not say who was playing what. Between items, various members of the piano team gave brief introductions to the music, but did not say who was playing it. I don’t suppose it matters much. Liezl-Maret Jacobs played in everything, and the others had plenty of opportunity to display their skills.
The programme opened with Mozart’s Sonata in D major, K. 123a, one of several duet sonatas which Mozart wrote for performance by his sister Nannerl and himself. It is a lovely work, brilliant outer movements and a rich, romantic Andante.
Then came Gabriel Faure’s six-movement Dolly Suite, a duet written in the eighteen-nineties for the daughter of the composer’s mistress. These ardent Frenchmen. The music is delightful, subtle and unusual.
In strong contrast was the Grand Galop de Concert by Wilhelm Ganz, a nineteenth century German composer who spent most of his life in England. This was vintage Victoriana, a catchy showpiece.
Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango was a typically fascinating work from this Argentine king of the tango, and it provided one of the high points of the evening. And there was a vivid Sonata in One Movement by the Czech composer Biedrich Smetana.
After the interval we were given Schubert’s great Fantasy in F minor, played powerfully and expressively by the two senior pianists of the group, Andrew Warburton and Liezl-Maret Jacobs.
Grieg was represented by a typically lyrical Adagio from his Symphonic Pieces and Rachmaninov by Polichinelle (Punch in English) written for solo piano and transcribed for two.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and successful concert.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the national Lottery, was Janice Atkinson, a flautist who is a pupil at Westville Girls’ High School. Accompanied by Bobby Mills she played pieces by Mozart and Faure with a poise and skill which showed that she is already an accomplished performer.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
2 November 2010 - Jerome Pernoo (cello) And Jerome Ducros (piano)
Durban audiences are old friends and admirers of the two Jeromes, who have visited this city several times over the past ten years or so. Jerome Pernoo is a cellist of the first rank and Jerome Ducros is likewise a pianist of high distinction. They are both French and in their thirties. They have established international careers as soloists, but they are probably best known as a duo. They have played together for 15 years, and they add to their individual talents a complete sense of partnership and mutual understanding which is obvious in their performances.
For this recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre they chose a programme of splendid compositions by Beethoven and Brahms, with a tango by the twentieth century Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla added for good measure.
It was a connoisseur’s programme and it was fitting that the audience should be the biggest at any Friends of Music concert that I can recall. About 200 people attended, the number having been boosted by the presence of 84 members of a German youth orchestra who are visiting Durban for a week. Aged 12 to 29, they come from Goppingen, a town near Stuttgart in southern Germany. These young people must have been impressed by the fact that Durban could stage a musical event of this quality.
Jerome Pernoo and Jerome Ducros have always been outstanding performers, but it seemed to me, and to some others in the audience, that they are even better now than they were before. They make an interesting contrast in styles: Jerome Pernoo rather flamboyant, carrying his listeners/viewers with him as he makes music; Jerome Ducros more restrained, but a virtuoso pianist capable of spectacular deeds at the keyboard.
They opened with Beethoven’s fine Variations on a Theme from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabeus. The tune, See the conquering hero comes, is well known; it is used, among other things, as a hymn in the Anglican Church. Beethoven’s 12 variations, composed in 1796, are lovely, and they were played with great skill and affection by the Jeromes.
Big Beethoven followed: the cello sonata in D major, Op. 102, No. 2. This is an advanced kind of work, especially the contrapuntal final movement. The whole sonata is strongly rhythmical and forward-looking in its themes and construction. Excellent playing brought out its many subtleties.
Perhaps it is worth emphasising that in all these works the pianist is in no sense an accompanist; he is an equal partner with the cellist.
And the piano parts were taxing indeed, as was vividly illustrated in the Grand Tango by Astor Piazzolla. Jerome Ducros bounded all over the keyboard with great vigour and accuracy, while Jerome Pernoo extracted a true Latin verve from his cello part. This was a brilliant, tremendously exciting performance, and it was received by the audience with extreme enthusiasm.
Finally, Brahms’s cello sonata No 2 in F major, Op. 99, produced a very different type of music. Brahms wrote this work in 1886 while holidaying in Switzerland, and it reflects a rather happy frame of mind, tinged with mild romanticism. The scoring is masterly, especially in the use of pizzicato by the cellist. So was the playing.
The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were four classical saxophone players who are based in France and call themselves the Quatuor Connection, quatuor meaning quartet. They are Cecile Dubois, Paul Richard, Maxine Matthews and Valerie Houssier. Their music was delightful. They played a movement from a Haydn string quartet, with nimble fingers and impeccable timing, and a typically agreeable piece by Piazzolla.
They gave much pleasure. The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian, in 1846. I couldn’t help wondering what Haydn, who died in 1809, would have thought about this version of one of his string quartets. He was a balanced, good-humoured man, and he would probably have been pleased.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
19 October 2010 - Mariangela Vacatello (Piano)
The Friends of Music organisation has presented a dozen distinguished pianists at the Durban Jewish Centre this year and the latest, Mariangela Vacatello, is one of the best.
Her programme was exceptionally challenging. The opening item, Bach’s Italian Concerto, proclaimed clearly that here was a pianist of unusual gifts. She demonstrated absolute clarity, good tonal balance and a total grasp of the contrapuntal subtleties of Bach’s music.
Then she turned from the cool elegance of Bach to the extravagances of Franz Liszt. Liszt’s Sonata in B minor is a massive work that reflects the contrasts in the composer’s own personality, the extrovert show-off and the rather self-conscious mystic. Modern opinion on the sonata, which runs for about 32 minutes without a break, is, I suspect, somewhat varied, but it is undeniably a great virtuoso work.
Mariangela handled Liszt’s thundering double octaves and big chords with absolute confidence and sureness, and she extracted a huge sound from the Kawai piano of the Friends of Music. Many members of the audience expressed amazement afterwards that so slight a young woman could play with such power. And she produced a beautiful cantabile tone in the sonata’s lyrical passages.
Chopin’s Rondo in E flat major, Op. 16, came almost as light relief. This is one of the Polish master’s lesser works but, as always with Chopin, it was delightful to listen to, with the pianist showing a delicate touch, a complete contrast to much of what had gone before.
Finally there was an astonishing display of keyboard pyrotechnics in Srtravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka. These three pieces are arrangements of music from Stravinksy’s ballet Petrushka. The composer wrote the piano versions in 1921 for his friend Arthur Rubinstein, the famous pianist.
They are among the most difficult pieces in the entire piano repertory, which is probably the reason why they are seldom played in public. Mariangela Vacatello gave a performance that was as exciting to see as it was to hear. Rapid runs, startling leaps of chords, glissandi, swift crossing of the hands – they were all there, handled with poise and assurance. The music is splendid, I think, and the performance was brilliant.
The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were Nosipho Ntuli (soprano) and Bheki Ngwazi (tenor). Together and separately they sang arias from Verdi operas, accompanied at the piano by Andrew Warburton. They both have very good, well-trained voices. Nosipho Ntuli showed accurate intonation and some powerful top notes, and Bheki Ngwazi has a strong, full-bodied tenor voice.
Both have a good stage presence and they were correctly dressed for the occasion. They gave the audience a good deal of pleasure.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
12 October 2010 - Daniel Rowland (violin) and Pieter Jacobs (piano)
A resplendent performance of a great masterwork dominated this recital given for the Friends of Music in the Durban Jewish Centre.
Daniel Rowland was born in London in 1972 and grew up in the Netherlands. Over the past 20 years he has established an international reputation as a solo violinist and as a chamber musician (he is the first violinist in the London-based Brodsky String Quartet). He is on his sixth visit to South Africa. He is a tall, lean man with a fine mop of dark hair and he looks younger than his 38 years. Speaking to the audience from the stage he revealed a pleasantly informal personality.
Pieter Jacobs is South African. He is not only an experienced and accomplished pianist but also has a doctorate in electronic engineering and has presented papers on this subject at international conferences. He teaches at the University of Pretoria.
It was a rainy evening, but a good-sized audience came to the Jewish Centre for this recital, and they were well rewarded. The programme opened with Three Romances by Clara Schumann, wife of Robert Schumann. She was most famous as a concert pianist; she outlived her husband by 40 years and tirelessly promoted his music on the concert platforms of Europe. And she was also a gifted though lesser composer.
These three Romances turned out to be attractive and fluent works rather in the manner of Robert Schumann himself. And from the first notes it was clear that we were listening to performers of the first rank, with lovely tone and phrasing from the violinist and sympathetic playing from the pianist.
Then came Beethoven’s Sonata in A major Op. 47, the Kreutzer sonata, a massive and magnificent work. This performance was totally compelling from start to finish. Daniel Rowland is an emotional, rather flamboyant type of violinist, with plenty of body movement. At times he seems almost to dance to the music, and his foot-stamping produced very audible noises which may have been disconcerting to some people in the audience. Perhaps he should wear rubber soles.
Be that as it may, his playing was absolutely outstanding. He captured the intense drama of the music, its power and strength, and the same can be said of Pieter Jacobs at the piano. Beethoven wrote his ten sonatas in this genre for violin and piano, not for violin accompanied by piano. They are equal partners, and the piano part in the Kreutzer is challenging indeed. Pieter Jacobs played with great skill and clear articulation.
After the interval Daniel Rowland played the slow movement of Bartok’s sonata for unaccompanied violin. Bartok wrote this sonata for Yehudi Menuhin in 1944. I heard Menuhin play it a long time ago. It sounded ultra-modern then and it still does, with all that the term implies.
The programme concluded with a fine performance of Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A major, one of this Belgian composer’s best works, notable for the contrapuntal writing in the final movement.
Prolonged applause brought forth a Debussy encore.
The prelude player of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was an 18-year-old flautist, Claudia Venter. She showed composure and great promise in two attractive, quite modern-sounding pieces that I had never heard before. The programme gave no titles and no information. There was no announcement from the platform, and the audience were left wondering what they were.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
28 September 2010 - Spencer Myer (piano)
The American pianist Spencer Myer, who is in his early thirties, has visited South Africa several times in recent years and has become a much admired figure on the musical scene here.
Understandably so. He is a brilliant player and he has an engaging, friendly personality, as he showed once again in a recital given for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.
He opened with the Suite No. 2 in F major by Handel. I can’t recall when I last heard Handel played at a piano recital, and listening to this fine performance of lovely music made me wonder why this great master is so neglected by pianists. This suite is a four-movement work, two fast, two slow, and Spencer Myer captured admirably its varied moods.
A most interesting work followed, one that was probably new to all but maybe two or three members of the audience (these being pianists themselves). The curiously named Sonata 1.X.1905, From the Street, by the Czech composer Leos Janacek, was composed in 1905, after a student demonstration in the streets of Brno ended with a young man being bayoneted by Austrian troops. Janacek was enraged by the incident, and this two-movement sonata was the result.
It is an impressive and fascinating work. As Spencer Myer, speaking audibly and unpretentiously from the stage, pointed out, Janacek’s music combines to some degree the romanticism of the end of the nineteenth century and the dissonances of the beginning of the twentieth. This brief sonata is powerful and highly distinctive, and it was played with great skill and authority.
Then came the one really familiar item, Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No 2 (incidentally, there are only two sonatas in Op. 27, not three, as stated in the otherwise excellent programme notes).
The pianist gave the first movement, the “Moonlight”, with excellent control of its subtle dynamics, and the final movement was played at high speed but with every note clearly articulated.
Spencer Myer went to the treasure house of Schumann’s piano music for his next item, Waldscenen, Op. 82. This rather rarely played set of eight “Forest Scenes” is a late work and is full of interest. Only one piece, Vogel als Prophet (The Prophet Bird) is quite well known, and this was beautifully played, as were the other two gentle, poetic items in the set, Einsame Blumen (Solitary Flowers) and Abschied (Farewell).
Finally the pianist gave a resplendent virtuoso performance of what he described from the stage as “some of my favourite music in the world”: two numbers from Granados’s six-movement suite Goyescas, inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya. He played El amor y la muerte (Love and Death) and Los Requiebros (Endearments in the programme but also sometimes translated as Flattery and Compliments). These are gorgeous pieces, especially the latter, full of Spanish fire and opulent harmonies.
The pianist delivered them with power and passion and was rewarded with an ovation from the delighted audience. In response he gave two encores, one of them a quick-fire “Witches’ Dance” by his American compatriot Edward MacDowell. Altogether a recital to remember.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was the young Romanian-born violinist Laura Osorhean, daughter of two players in the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. She showed considerable skills and seems to have a bright future as a musician.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
14 September 2010 - Vassily Primakov (piano)
The combination of a Chopin programme and a pianist with a big reputation attracted an exceptionally large audience to this Friends of Music recital at the Durban Jewish Centre.
Vassily Primakov is 31 years old. He was born in Moscow and completed his musical studies in the United States, where he has since made a name as a Chopin player in particular. He is a tall, slender man with a fairly restrained keyboard manner. And in his widely varied Friends of Music programme he demonstrated a massive technique and a genuinely poetic approach to the lyricism of the music.
He opened with a rarity, Chopin’s Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 4, written when the composer was 18. It has been completely overshadowed by Chopin’s two later sonatas, but it is an interesting work. It is remarkably mature, considering that it comes from so youthful a composer, and it contains many glimpses of Chopin’s future development as the prince of the piano.
Vassily Primakov delivered the music with great conviction and clarity, especially the nocturnal Larghetto movement.
Three shorter works followed: the Nocturne in F major, Op. 15 No. 1, the Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3, and the Waltz in A flat major Op. 42. The waltz was given the full virtuoso treatment, and one of its many subtleties, different rhythms for melody and bass, was to some extent obscured.
The Mazurka was a delight. Chopin wrote 56 of these pieces, based on Polish folk dances. They are a treasure chest of memorable music but seem to have been somewhat neglected on concert programmes. Op. 50, No. 3 is a particularly fine example. It has the authentic spirit of Poland, including the wave motion of the oborek dance, and for good measure Chopin throws in some deft counterpoint. It was all beautifully played.
At one stage the descending cascades of notes in the C sharp minor Scherzo were greeted with the deafening sound of fireworks, apparently from the nearby cricket ground. The pianist continued gallantly. I imagine that his thoughts were not very complimentary.
In response to a standing ovation from the audience, he gave an unusual encore: Scriabin’s prelude for the left hand alone.
The evening’s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was an excellent baritone, Matteuz Kneblewski, a matric pupil at Kearsney College. Accompanied by Bobby Mills at the piano, he sang an aria from Beethoven’s Fidelio and two songs by the English composer Roger Quilter. He displayed a full, well-trained voice of wide range, and a poised, confident platform manner. Big prospects for the future here, I think.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
31 August 2010 - Trio Hemanay (Flute • Piano • Cello)
This Johannesburg-based trio consists of Malcolm Nay (piano), Helen Vosloo (flute) and Marian Lewin (cello), an unusual combination of instruments. The name of the group is (I assume) a composite word made up of He(len), Ma(rian) and Nay (Malcolm).
They have played before for the Friends of Music, and for this recital in the Durban Jewish Centre they chose a distinctly unusual programme. You have to be rather brave, I think, to devote an entire programme, with one exception, to contemporary composers, and I suspect that the relatively small size of the audience reflected a certain wariness about the music being played.
Be that as it may, the works performed gave much pleasure to the listeners, none more so than the sole exception to the modern pattern, a 1790 Trio in D major by Haydn. The music was typical of this master: melodious, good-humoured, skilfully scored, terse and to the point. The players excelled, with the balance and rapport one would expect from a team who have been playing together for 13 years, and Malcolm Nay was in particularly good form at the piano. Most enjoyable, and warmly applauded.
Haydn died in 1809, aged 77. The only other really familiar name on the programme was Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine king of the tango, who died in 1992, aged 71. He was represented, predictably enough, by some catchy tango music.
The English composer John Rutter (born 1945) is well known in Britain and the United States because he has written a good deal of choral music, hymns and carols. He was represented here by his Suite Antique, originally scored for flute, harpsichord and strings but arranged for cello, flute and piano by Nicholas Abbott, a young Cape Town cellist who died last year in a mountain accident, and by the South African composer Allan Stephenson.
The French composer Jean-Michel Damase (born 1928) writes rather whimsical and witty music, and his Sonate en Concert is a delightful sequence of widely varied short pieces, many of them with a slightly antique flavour; the composer has a liking for old baroque forms such as the rigaudon and the gigue. The audience found this music, written in 1952, very appealing, and it was indeed performed with skill and flair.
Two South African composers completed the progamme: Wessel van Rensburg (born 1964), with a work called No Words, based on African jazz; and Hendrik Hofmeyr (born 1957), with two contrasting tangos.
The printed programme was rather cryptic, and announcements from the stage didn’t help much. A partly inaudible announcement by a performer is not really a substitute for a good programme note.
The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were Neliswa Katamzi and Ntokozo Mhlongo, students at the opera school of the University of KwaZulu/Natal. Accompanied by Dana Hadjiev at the piano, they sang some popular songs, of which O mio babbino caro, from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, arranged here for two sopranos, was the best-known and the best-performed. The singers showed great promise.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
17 August 2010 - Young-Choon Park (piano)
Here is another rich talent from the Far East, a splendid pianist, as the Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre soon discovered. Young-Choon Park was born in South Korea and was a child prodigy; she gave her first full recital when she was seven and played a Beethoven concerto with the Seoul Symphony Orchestra at the age of nine.
She is still, well, young, but after studying in New York and Munich she has developed an extensive concert career encompassing many countries and many orchestras.
For her Friends of Music recital she presented a programme of Scarlatti, Schubert and Chopin and steered well clear of the very familiar works that are heard so often in concert halls.
It was a real pleasure to hear four of the 550 sonatas written by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), one of the great masters of the keyboard. These are amazing works, very advanced for their time, and Young-Choon gave a dazzling demonstration of all the tricks of Scarlatti’s trade --- rapid repeated notes, swift crossing of hands, unexpected shifts of melody and harmony.
I thought her tempi were sometimes a bit wayward in the most familiar item, the Sonata in D major K.96, but this is a minor criticism. She included two of the sonatas, both in F minor, which Ralph Kirkpatrick, the ultimate authority on Scarlatti’s music, places among those that were intended by the composer to be played in pairs, a fairly slow sonata followed by a fast one. Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D. 845, produced, I thought, the best playing of the evening. The programme note correctly said that many of Schubert’s piano sonatas were sadly neglected until the second half of the twentieth century. In fact he wrote 21 sonatas, most of them of high quality, and many of them still heard but rarely at recitals.
This A minor sonata must, I think, have been a revelation to some members of the audience. It was written in 1825, three years before Schubert’s death at the age of 31, and it is full of rich harmonies and haunting melodies.
Young-Choon Park is a small person but she played the work with great power, warmth and passion, extracting a remarkable sonority from the piano. And it was not all loud virtuosity. There was nothing better than her playing of the magical end of the slow movement.
Finally we were given Chopin, everybody’s favourite piano composer, represented here by the Sonata in B minor, Op. 58. Here again the pianist played with brilliant skill. It is a very difficult work, with plenty of opportunity for display by the performer, but what impressed me most was the beautifully smooth cantabile she produced in the main theme of the first movement, a melody that is one of Chopin’s finest inspirations.
A memorable recital that gave great enjoyment to the audience.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery was Fae Evelyn, a South African soprano who is studying in Britain. She showed a voice of power and promise as she sang a Handel aria and two Elizabethan songs arranged by the twentieth century English composer Ivor Gurney. She had the services of an expert accompanist in the form of the concert pianist Christopher Duigan.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
10 August 2010 - Musa Nkuna (tenor), Cornelia Conrad-Vos (soprano), Andrew Warburton (piano)
World-class is a term that is freely bandied about in South Africa today, sometimes without much justification, but South African-born Musa Nkuna is a singer of truly international stature, as was obvious to the Friends of Music audience who heard him in a recital of lieder and opera given at the Durban Jewish Centre.
His first notes, an aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute, indicated clearly that here was a tenor of exceptional quality, and it was easy to understand how he has succeeded in the highly competitive musical environment of Europe.
Musa Nkuna is 37. He was born in Gyani in the Limpopo province and has an imposing curriculum vitae: several degrees and diplomas in music, two years as principal tenor at the state theatre at Pforzheim in Germany, four more in the same capacity at the Cologne Opera House, and two years at the national theatre in Lisbon. He has appeared at recitals in 10 countries in Europe. His programme biography has a splendid throwaway line: “Among his 44 most recent opera roles on stage are”…. followed by a list of 20 operas ranging from Rossini to Benjamin Britten.
The bigger than usual Jewish Centre audience therefore had great expectations, and they were in no way disappointed. Musa Nkuna has been blessed by nature with a fine voice, and his natural gifts have been admirably developed by years of training allied to an innate intelligence and artistry.
He dominated this recital, but there were notable performances from the soprano Cornelia Conrad-Vos, daughter of James Conrad, a well-known figure on the Durban musical scene, and from Andrew Warburton at the piano.
Musa Nkuna opened the programme with two Mozart arias, from The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, both of them delivered with pure, accurate intonation, well-judged phrasing and, on occasion, a splendid crescendo.
He is a tall, slender man and he has a composed stage manner, without affectation and extravagance. And he was dressed in dinner jacket, not pyjama jacket, as is sometimes the style these days.
Later he sang an aria from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin; arias from Verdi’s Traviata and Puccini’s Boheme; a Shangaan hymn arranged by the singer himself, attractive and lively, with a jaunty piano part; and Dichterliebe, The Poet’s Love, the cycle of 16 songs by Schumann. He is a versatile performer as well as an accomplished one.
More Schumann was presented by Cornelia Conrad-Vos, the eight songs called Frauenliebe und leben, A Woman’s Love and Life.
Schumann’s piano music is so well known that it tends to overshadow the fact that he wrote about 250 songs, and this particular cycle may well have been unfamiliar to some members of the audience. It tells the story of a romantic relationship as seen by the woman, from first love to death, and it contains much beautiful music. Cornelia Conrad-Vos gave a committed and persuasive interpretation of these songs, and Andrew Warburton was excellent in the piano part, which often has a role of its own, more or less independent of the singer.
Andrew Warburton is a concert pianist with 20 concertos in his repertory. In this recital he displayed his skills as an accompanist, playing with sympathy, discretion and insight. His was an important contribution to a memorable evening.
The Prelude Players of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, offered something completely different. The performers were a group called Singing the Blues, consisting of Pete Misselbrook (guitar/vocal), Rob Ettershank (electronic keyboard), Dennis Bronner (bass) and Geoff Salt (percussion).
They are not exactly young players --- Pete Misselbrook has been playing the guitar for more than 50 years --- but they gave much pleasure with their revival of some favourites of the sixties, including “Georgia” and “Singing the Blues”.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
20 July 2010 - London Song Circle
The art song is not a big crowd-drawer in Durban, judging by the attendance at this recital given at the Durban Jewish Centre by three outstanding performers.
Music-lovers who stayed at home missed an evening of beautiful music presented by gifted and committed artists Mark Nixon (piano), Margriet van Reisen (mezzo-soprano) and Erica Eloff (soprano). They call themselves the London Song Circle, presumably because they often appear in London, but they are originally from South Africa (Mark and Erica) and from Holland (Margriet).
In a programme ranging from the seventeenth century (Henry Purcell) to the twentieth (Benjamin Britten) they gave consistently fine performances, with Mark Nixon participating in every item. He is a music graduate of the University of Cape Town who now lives in London and has built a considerable reputation as a piano soloist and as an accompanist, and at this Friends of Music concert he excelled in both roles.His solo contribution was Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, taken at high speed and with a rather flamboyant keyboard style.The technical difficulties posed no problems for the pianist. His interpretation was exciting, and he produced a beautiful cantabile tone in the work’s main theme, one of Chopin’s finest inspirations.
Vocal duets are unusual outside the field of opera, but the programme opened with three such items, songs by Purcell arranged by Britten, plus two solo songs by this composer.One was immediately struck by the close and sympathetic liaison between the two singers, and between them and the pianist, and this empathy continued throughout the evening.
Four songs by Schumann, including two famous ones, Widmung (Devotion) and Der Nussbaum (The Nut Tree) followed, and in them Magriet van Reisen showed that she is a mezzo-soprano of the first rank.She covered a wide range of emotions, from gentle calm to dramatic declamation.She has a splendid voice and it is allied to an acute perception of the meaning of the music.
Then came a rarity, four duets by Brahms in different moods, good-humoured, melancholy, wry and romantic.And then the South African sopranoErica Eloff came into her own with six songs by Rachmaninov, presented with lovely pure tone and expressive phrasing.Mark Nixon excelled in the all-important piano parts, many of them in Rachmaninov’s most rhapsodic style.It was a treat to hear these songs, which, inexplicably, are not often featured on concert programmes. The exquisite “Lilacs’ must be one of the most beautiful songs in the entire vocal repertory.
Finally, there were songs by two English composers, Roger Quilter and Benjamin Britten.
The audience was not large but those present were certainly enthusiastic.Prolonged applause and cries of Bravo indicated their enjoyment of an evening of exceptional music-making.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
29 June 2010 - Polina Burdukova (Cello) and Kerry Wisniewski (Piano)
These two musicians, South African notwithstanding their exotic names, played Beethoven, Grieg and Chopin in their last appearance for the Friends of Music, two years ago. This time they performed, in the Durban Jewish Centre, a programme that was, to put it mildly, well off the beaten track.
I have been listening to music for a long time, but there was only one item on the programme with which I was familiar: Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, Op. 73 (I have occasionally played the piano part, in my amateur way, for a friend who is a cellist).
The rest was terra incognita for me and, I suspect, for most of the audience, but interesting territory nonetheless. And the music was delivered with considerable skill and conviction by two gifted instrumentalists.
They opened with five pieces by the early eighteenth century French composer, Francois Couperin, Couperin le Grand, so called to distinguish him from the lesser musicians in his family. These were a delight: elegant, stately, melodious. The finest, I thought, was a simple, beautiful and melancholy composition called Plainte, Complaint. And the final Air de Diable (Song of the Devil) seemed to be more good-humoured than diabolical. What a splendid philosophy of life.
Then came the most advanced composition of the evening, a work called 4 Minim by Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, who lives in Johannesburg and is generally regarded, at the age of 62, as South Africa’s foremost woman composer.
This consists of four pieces called Esrog, Lulav, Hadassim and Arovos. The cellist, Russian-born Polina Burdokova, gave some kind of explanation of the music before it was played, but it was inaudible to most of the audience, who no doubt were left wondering what it was all about. The explanation should have been given in the programme note, which was hopelessly inadequate.
Perhaps the Jewish members of the audience, or some of them, knew the answers. These four words refer to plants, including citron, palm leaves and myrtle branches, which are used for ceremonies in Sukkot, the Jewish harvesting holiday which follows Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph has been closely involved with Jewish music in Johannesburg).
The music seemed to me to be rather cryptic, strongly rhythmical and dissonant, in the modern idiom. For audiences, all part of the learning curve, I suppose, but the brief applause at the end suggested that these listeners were not very enthusiastic about it.
After the interval came the three Schumann Fantasiestucke, fantasy pieces, written fairly late in the composer’s life and typical of his warm, romantic style. They were originally written for clarinet and piano, but they go very well for the cello and are most often played in this form. The performance was excellent.
Virtuoso playing was provided in Rossini’s Une Larme Variations. These variations are on a quiet, mournful tune called Une Larme, The Tear, but, as usual, Rossini’s high spirits take over and the work develops into something resembling an exuberant Rossini opera. All very enjoyable.
Finally we were given another South African composition, a “Concert Piece” by 61-year-old Allan Stephenson, who was born in England but has lived in Cape Town for nearly 40 years. He is a cellist and a prolific composer, ninety compositions, including three operas and concertos for various instruments.
His music is in a quite traditional style, and his concert piece turned out be jaunty, rhythmical and pleasant.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was 16-year-old Keziah Peel, a pupil at Durban Girls’ College. An unusual first name; Keziah was one of the daughters of the suffering and patient Job of the Old Testament.
This Keziah is a versatile musician; she is a cellist, a saxophonist and a percussionist. With Jacques Heyns at the piano she played the saxophone concerto by the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, written in 1934, two years before his death. It is terse (15 minutes, with no breaks), lively, quite tuneful and, I imagine, difficult to play. Keziah gave a very good performance. The piano arrangement is effective, but it is not really a substitute for Glazunov’s orchestration. Perhaps one of these days Keziah will be given the opportunity of playing the concerto with the KZNPO.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
8 June 2010 - Chun Wang (piano)
This was a truly remarkable recital in the Durban Jewish Centre. Chun Wang is a 20-year-old pianist from China. He has won prizes in international competitions, has played with some big orchestras, and is at present a student at the Julliard School in New York.
Some student. For one so young he is a player of enormous skills, power and confidence. His keyboard technique is spectacular. And his insight into the music he is playing is acute.
Listening to him I wondered about the amount of study and practice that must have gone into his twenty years. But then he is from the east, where the work ethic among gifted people is something else.
Whatever the background to his accomplishments, he delivered an evening of extraordinary pianism to the Friends of Music audience.
He opened a very taxing programme with Bach’s Toccata in D major, BWV 912, a work with which I am not familiar. This turned out to be an extended and brilliant piece. It was written about 300 years ago, and it is full of musical ideas that remain astonishingly modern today. The performance was excellent, with crisp, clear accents and well-judged phrasing.
Chun Wang followed with two big works by two supreme piano composers, Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin, both born 200 years ago, in 1810. The choice of Schumann’s Phantasie in C, Op. 17, was particularly appropriate because this recital was given on 8 June 2010, two hundred years to the day from Schumann’s birth.
The fantasy is a beautiful three-movement work, a deeply felt personal utterance, and Chun Wang played it with perception and insight. It is difficult, especially the energetic second movement, and the technical problems were overcome with great dexterity.
Chopin’s Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, the one with the funeral mach, produced another virtuoso performance. The first movement was taken at high speed, too fast for my taste; there is some evidence that Chopin himself did not care for keyboard speed merchants. But there was some lovely cantabile playing in the slow section of the second movement and in the funeral march. And the ghost-like finale was performed with lightning-fast fingers.
Finally Chun Wang gave another extraordinary display of virtuoso playing in Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka, the composer’s arrangement for piano of three movements from his celebrated ballet Petrushka, about a puppet who comes to life, with sad consequences.
This music was composed nearly a hundred years ago, for the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, and it sounds as modern and innovative now as it must have done then. Chun Wang played it with extreme brilliance, executing very fast scales, rapid jumps, glissandos, complex rhythms, with great confidence and control. At the end a good-sized audience gave him a standing ovation.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was Caterina Reigl, a 15-year-old recorder player who is a pupil at the Fatima Convent at Durban North. Accompanied by Bobby Mills at the piano, she played eighteenth century music by Georg Philipp Telemann and Giuseppe Sammatini (he had a brother named Giovanni but I think this piece was by Giuseppe) and twentieth century music by the English composer Gordon Jacob. All very pleasant and well performed.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
11 May 2010 - Grigory Alumyan (Cello) and Rinko Hama (Piano)
The opening notes for solo cello in Beethoven’s Op. 69 sonata indicated that we were listening to a player of superior quality, and so it proved in this recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.
Grigory Alumyan is a Russian cellist and he was partnered in this recital by Rinko Hama, a Japanese pianist who has collaborated with him for the past nine years. She was born in Japan but seems to have spent most of the past 20 years in Europe. At the keyboard she matches his skills with the cello.
In Durban they presented a substantial and consistently enjoyable programme, beginning with the main item of the evening, the Beethoven sonata. This magnificent work in A major is the best of Beethoven’s five sonatas for cello and piano, and it brought forth splendid playing from the performers.
Here, as in the other compositions on the programme, the cello and piano are equal partners; the piano part is certainly not an accompaniment. The brief opening phase for the cello was played with great power and resonance, setting the standard for a memorable performance. The cellist’s broad and accurate tone was given to great effect in the short and beautiful Adagio cantabile, and the rapid final movement provided plenty of opportunity for the pianist to show her virtuosity.
They followed with arrangements by Paul Kochonski of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs, playing six of the seven items. The original for soprano and piano is well known, and there is a good arrangement for solo piano by Ernesto Halffter, who studied with Falla, but this cello version was new to me. I felt that the cello was perhaps too weighty an instrument for some of these wild and captivating songs, but Grigory Alumyan produced a beautiful singing tone in the melancholy Nana lullaby and in Asturiana.
Incidentally, the programme note said that Asturiana was by far the best known of these songs. I would have thought that the best known was the very lively Seguidilla murciana, the one song omitted in this performance.
Schumann’s rarely played Adagio and Allegro, Op.70, made a good contrast, and the concert ended with Grieg’s sonata for cello and piano in A minor, Op. 36.
This is an extended three-movement work running for about 30 minutes. Grieg’s music is sometimes underrated. In fact he was a highly original and gifted composer, and the far-ranging subject matter of this sonata might have come as a surprise to some listeners. The players delivered it with great intensity and skill to complete an evening of outstanding music.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was the soprano Lize Bothma, a 17-year-old pupil at Crawford College North Coast, who, accompanied by Ros Conrad, presented songs by Alessandro Scarlatti, Hugo Wolf and George Gershwin.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart
20 April 2010 - Quintet
Nishlyn Ramanna in the Sunday Magazine dated 25th April 2010.
9 March 2010 - Konstantin Soukhovetski, piano
Konstantin Soukhovetski is a young Russian pianist who is not only a consummate keyboard technician but is also an artist with an acute understanding of the subtleties and nuances of the music he is playing.
He delighted his Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre with a programme that was mainly off the beaten track and offered much to digest and enjoy.
He is a lean, good-looking young man, late twenties, I would guess, with a deeply committed approach to his music and a pleasantly informal manner with the audience. He was born in Moscow and his family still live there, but he speaks fluent English with a marked American accent. He commented on the music from the stage and was responsible for the highly literate and rather philosophical programme notes.
He opened with Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22. This was an appropriate choice to mark the bicentenary of Chopin’s birth. It was on the programme with which the 22-year-old composer launched his career in Paris as a concert pianist in 1832, and it was there again when he gave his last public performance in Paris 16 years later.
The polonaise is a dazzling showpiece and it was played here with great brilliance, but the Andante Spianato (written some years after the polonaise) is musically far superior, a beautiful extended nocturne with hints of impressionism that look into the future. Konstantin Soukhovetski captured the magic of Chopin’s music, revealing, as a good pianist should, what a great composer he was.
He followed with two works which showed, as he put it, “two very different Russias”. Tchaikovsky’s Dumka is, I think, something of a rarity. It begins with a melancholy folk-music type of tune and then livens up considerably later. It is effectively scored for the piano and was played with high skills.
Then came the Sonata in C minor, Op. 29, by Prokofiev, this composer’s fourth piano sonata, written in 1917. It is typically vigorous and abrasive, and the slow movement is highly original and evocative.
The pianist played these two Russian compositions without pausing to take a bow between them, and this caused some confusion in the audience, many of whom were under the impression that the Prokofiev was a continuation of the Tchaikovsky. Advanced Tchaikovsky. After a little time, of course, the penny dropped and they realised that they were listening to music of the twentieth century.
After the interval came Schubert’s long (45 minutes) and profound Sonata in B flat major, D.960. This is a great work, written shortly before Schubert’s death in 1828 at the age of 31. It was played with superb insight, especially the first two movements, in which the composer seems to ponder the mysteries of life and death. It was a privilege to hear this performance.
The programme note referred to Schubert’s last three piano sonatas as masterpieces that remain largely unknown. I would go further. Schubert wrote 18 piano sonatas, all of them of high quality and some of them absolutely outstanding, but they have been sadly neglected on the concert platform.
An encore was not really fitting after the sublime Schubert, but Konstantin Soukhovetski chose one that matched the mood: a piano transcription of Richard Strauss’s beautiful song Morgen, tomorrow the sun will shine.
The prelude performer of the evening was the well-known baritone Selby Hlangu, who is a Master’s student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He showed good, confident delivery and expressive phrasing in four songs from Schubert’s Schone Mullerin. Danna Hadjiev was competent and sympathetic in the all-important piano parts.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
23 February - Moya trombone Quartet
The trombone is nothing if not assertive, as anybody who has heard it in action in an orchestra will confirm.
It is the brassiest of brass instruments and the last thing I would associate with chamber music, but in this concert four gifted trombonists showed that there is really no end to musical ingenuity and enterprise.
The players are from South Africa (Ross Butcher and Anthony Boorer, who comes from England but is now the principal trombone in the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra) and France (Christophe Legrand and Maxime Chevrot). They call themselves the Moya Trombone Quartet, and they presented a programme ranging from Verdi and Gershwin to, wait for it, Debussy, with a lavish helping of modern music and jazz. All of which was much to the taste of the Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre.
The Moya Quartet was established four years ago and is based at Geneva in Switzerland. The name Moya comes from the Zulu word for the wind and spirit, highly appropriate for this group (some of you may remember a beautiful lady named Moya, and the name was appropriate for her too).
For this concert both the composition of the quartet and their programme were changed considerably from the advertised details. An Italian and a French member of the usual quartet were not present, and their places
were taken (very effectively) by Anthony Boorer and Maxime Chevrot. Perhaps this was why the programme was altered. Anthony Boorer stood in at two days’ notice and played with distinction.
The evening had an informal atmosphere. The players were dressed casually, and breezy announcements were made from the stage.
The trombone is not a very nimble or soulful instrument, and, in spite of skilful performance, I did not think it was well suited to arrangements of Verdi’s La forza del destina overture, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana intermezzo or songs by Debussy.
But the players seem to come into their own in an interesting, three-movement suite called Wars by the American composer Joey Sellers, and in popular pieces by Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, Christian Lindberg and Queen (the British rock band).
I would guess that about 60 members of the audience of about 80 had seldom before attended a Friends of Music concert, and they obviously enjoyed themselves. Different strokes for different folks, as the rather peculiar saying goes.
This concert was a success. Would this audience return for an evening of Bach or Mozart? I wonder.
The evening’s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was the 15-year-old violinist Yea Kyung Kim, a pupil at Durban Girls’ College. She is taught music by Isaac Melamed. Accompanied by David Smith, she played the chaconne attributed to the Italian composer Vitali (1663-1745), and she played it with confidence and competence.
Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)
16 February - BENJAMIN SCHMID (violin) and LUIS MAGALHAES (piano)
This was an outstanding duo recital: lovely music played by two truly gifted performers, the Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid and the Portuguese pianist (now based at Stellenbosch) Luis Magalhaes.
Over the past two decades Benjamin Schmid, who is now 41, has established a big international reputation, and listening to his playing at the Durban Jewish Centre it is easy to understand why. From his 1731 Stradivarius he produces a consistently full and beautiful tone, and he plays with a calmness, poise and control that make light of any technical difficulties.
Luis Magalhaes, who now teaches at Stellenbosch University, has been a concert pianist for many years, and he proved to be an admirable partner for the admirable Schmid.
The programme was devoted to Schubert and Beethoven, and the works played are all very much for violin and piano on equal terms; there is no question of the piano providing a mere accompaniment.
It was a treat to be given three compositions by Schubert that are not played too often: a graceful, flowing Sonatina and two big works, the Fantasy in C major and the Rondo Brillant in B minor.
Schubert is one of a handful of supreme composers in musical history, and this Fantasy, written in1827, is ample evidence of his powers. The opening is extraordinary, a prolonged tremolo on the piano with an expressive adagio melody from the violin. Then follows a wide range of ideas and emotions, the crucial theme being an adaptation, with variations, of one of Schubert’s most beautiful songs, “Angel of beauty”.
The performance was superb, and perhaps a special word of appreciation is due to Luis Magalhaes. Schubert’s keyboard music is often awkward and difficult to play, and this pianist handled the problems with aplomb.
The Schubert Rondo Brillant was likewise played with great skill, vigour and conviction.
The programme was completed with one of the greatest works for violin and piano, Beethoven’s Sonata in G major Op 96, the last and finest of the composer’s ten violin sonatas.
The programme note mentioned that this sonata is sometimes (not often, fortunately) referred to as “The Cockcrow”. Musical nicknames are often silly, but this one verges on the idiotic. Anybody who thinks that the sonata’s opening phrase resembles a cock’s crow (the apparent source of the nickname) must be tone deaf, in my opinion.
Be that as it may, the performance was first-rate throughout. It is a pity that wet, stormy weather reduced the audience in size, but those who braved the rain and lightning were richly rewarded.
The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was yet another instrumentalist with eastern origins, this time Chia-Chi Chiang, known as Casey, a pianist who is a 17-year-old pupil at Northlands Girls’ High School.
She played Debussy’s Cathedrale Engloutie (sunken cathedral) and Rachmaninov’s Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, No. 10. These were ambitious choices, but she gave a creditable performance and showed a good sense of style and dynamics. She will no doubt continue to work hard and make good progress in the future.
--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)