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KZNPO REVIEW (article first published : 2002-11-11)

On October 24, as part if its World Symphony Season series, the KZN Philharmonic presented a concert with the acclaimed conductor-pianist Justus Frantz.

Big-scale Mozart was the order of the evening here, in a programme featuring the ubiquitous Magic Flute Overture, followed the Piano Concerto No 21 (K467) and the Symphony No 39 in E flat. The visiting German musician, Justus Frantz, one-time protégée of Karajan and Bernstein, clearly favours an approach to performing Mozart with larger forces than is customary these days, evoking memories of performances from a by-gone generation.

He opted for a pretty-well complete contingent of KZNPO strings which combined with the soupy acoustic of the City Hall to produce a rather bottom-heavy feel to the music-making onstage. While each work was given under Frantz's beat with an overall sense of direction and balance that only occasionally faltered (there was sense of fences being rushed more than once in the third movement of the concerto), I nonetheless found an inescapable feeling of blandness overriding the musical proceedings.

This left one without any of those flashes of fresh discovery that distinguish truly individual interpretations of this core repertoire. What we had was a well-executed programme of three great classics, given within the accepted boundaries of well-chartered terrain.

The concerto came off smoothly although the pianist's articulation in his scale passages during the outer movements lacked the clarity of definition one looks for in the highest echelon of keyboard artists, say a Murray Perahia or an Alfred Brendel. It may sound churlish to evoke these august names in comparison to the evening's guest artist, but in the light of the KZNPO's ongoing promoting of its so-called World Symphony Series brand (launched more than half a decade ago with a roster of truly top-flight soloists and conductors) the perspective is apt enough.

Still, who's to complain when the order of events proved a crowd-pleaser. As expected the KZNPO winds stole the limelight in the symphony, producing many moments of glowing beauty. And full marks to Maestro Frantz for re-instating the usually cut reprise in the finale of this glorious work, for me the crowning glory of Mozart's symphonic canon. – William Charlton-Perkins.

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