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KZNPO CONCERT: SEPTEMBER 23 (article first published : 2004-09-30)

Beethovenís Fifth Symphony is always a drawcard, and so it was for the audience in the Durban City Hall at this concert; but the most intriguing item was the Concerto for Sarod and Orchestra by the 38-year-old Indian composer and performer Wajahat Khan.

The sarod is a stringed instrument, a type of lute. It looks rather like an elongated banjo but it is a great deal more complicated. It has 21 strings, four of them melodic and the others playing a supporting role. It has the twangy sound which westerners tend to associate with oriental music, and it no doubt has, like the guitar, a small tone. Wajahat Khan played it with the help of a microphone and two loudspeakers. Without them the sound of the solo instrument would, I suspect, have been lost in the general tumult of the full orchestra.

As a composer Wajahat Khan, who comes from a long line of North Indian musicians, has sought to combine western and eastern traditions. He knows his way around both, and his scoring for the orchestra proved skilful and effective. His one-movement concerto has an opening redolent of Richard Strauss, with a single note swelling in volume until the entry of the soloist (who incidentally sat cross-legged on the floor of his podium). The musical construction seems to consist of short themes stated by the orchestra and imitated by the sarod.

In a brief preamble before he started the composer said from the platform that about 70 percent of the soloistís part was improvised at every performance. His playing was therefore a considerable feat of ingenuity. The general effect was, to my ears, attractive and assimilable, with some brilliant cadenza-like passages for the soloist. It did go on a bit, 30 minutes or so, followed by ďa little encoreĒ which lasted about 10 minutes.

In contrast, the first movement of Beethovenís Fifth says an enormous amount in just seven minutes. This was much to the taste of the audience, as was the opening item, Mozartís relatively little known Symphony No. 25 in G minor, a composition of varying moods. The young Welsh conductor David Murphy showed excellent control and insight in these masterworks, and he played a truly sympathetic part in the sarod concerto. - Michael Green




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