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KZNPO CONCERT: JUNE 26 2008 (article first published : 2008-06-29)

The programme for the KZN Philharmonic’s concert in the Durban City Hall was well off the beaten track, which was probably the reason for the audience being smaller than usual. A pity, because those who attended heard fine music performed by a gifted young soloist and a KZN Philharmonic Orchestra that, under the baton of a distinguished conductor, was in particularly good form.

The conductor was Leslie Dunner from the United States, always a welcome visitor, as the audience made clear with warm applause when he appeared at the start of the concert. The soloist was the Pretoria cellist Anzel Gerber. She played Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, not a well-known work but a beautiful one, and did so with great skill and dedication. She produced some lovely sounds in the lower register of the cello and, with help of the conductor, gave a cohesive overall interpretation of a work that can sound a little unwieldy; its three movements are played without a break.

She was at her best in the expressive slow movement and she conveyed in general the warmth and intimacy of this work. Not least among her merits is an unpretentious, pleasant personality and a calm and concentrated stage demeanour.

The concert opened with Berlioz’s Les Franc-Juges, The Extremist Judges, written in 1827 as an overture to an opera which was later discarded. The story is about a group of judges who take over the government and become merciless dictators. Berlioz’s score is vivid and dramatic, with some lyrical passages that are reminiscent of his Symphonie fantastique. The brass instruments (portraying the judges) have a field day and their role was expertly performed by the KZNPO’s players. All most enjoyable.

The big work of the evening was the Symphony No. 2, the Four Temperaments, by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen, who died in 1931 at the age of 66. I doubt whether this has been played in Durban before, and it was something of a revelation for the listeners. Its movements are named after the four temperaments (individual characteristics): choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine. It is an unusual and beguiling idea, and in developing it Nielsen showed great imagination and masterful orchestration. This music was written in 1902, about the time that Stravinsky was setting Paris ablaze with his new ideas, but the Nielsen symphony is not “modern” in the conventional sense. The sound is full-bodied, rich, brilliant, with just enough dissonance to provide a slightly modern tinge.

The opening choleric flourish --- plenty of work here again for the brass --- set the tone for an outstanding performance. Leslie Dunner, a slight but energetic figure on the podium, seems to be able to extract the best from our orchestra, and their playing was uniformly good. I liked best the eloquent and grand slow movement, not as melancholic as the title suggests, and the cheerful final movement, with a jaunty, catchy part for, of all instruments, the trombones.

The audience showed their appreciation with prolonged applause at the end. - Michael Green




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