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KZNPO CONCERT: SEPTEMBER 30 (article first published : 2004-10-4)

The KZN Philharmonic was enlarged to about 80 players for this concert, to cope with the score of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, last played by the orchestra 16 years ago. And, under the baton of the distinguished visiting American conductor Leslie B. Dunner, the orchestra responded with splendid performances of the Stravinsky and of Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, afternoon of a faun, which, like The Rite of Spring, was originally composed for a Nijinsky ballet.

Between these two extraordinary works came a Mozart piano concerto, equally revolutionary in its own way, with Lara Jones as soloist. Lara, who first played with the orchestra at the age of 11, quite a long time ago, has been studying in Germany for several years and has become an accomplished and mature artist. In this Durban City Hall concert she chose to play, for her first time in public, Mozart’s Concerto No 24 in C minor, K. 491, written in 1786 and in many ways the most striking and dramatic of all Mozart’s 27 piano concertos.

Soloist and orchestra are virtually on even terms here --- this is not a virtuoso showpiece --- and the rapport between conductor and pianist could hardly be faulted. Lara Jones showed immaculate technique in the two difficult outer movements but she also played with heart and brain, immersing herself in Mozart’s deeply felt music and generating considerable power in the final movement in particular.

Those were the big moments, but for me the gem of the entire performance was her lovely pellucid playing of the middle movement, Larghetto, Mozart at his most ethereal.

Debussy’s lascivious faun, lazing in the afternoon sunshine, produced fine playing from the entire orchestra, especially Maria Milliken on the flute. As for the Stravinsky, this was overwhelming. It caused a riot at its first performance in Paris in 1913, and nearly a century later it is still startlingly dissonant and “modern”.

Walt Disney tried to popularise it more than 60 years ago in his film Fantasia, but he was hardly successful; this is not the kind of music that leaves the audience humming the main tunes. But it is a remarkable tour de force, one of a kind really, with its driving, primitive rhythms and brilliant orchestral colour. You will not often hear a performance of this calibre in South Africa. - Michael Green




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