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KZNPO CONCERT: 11 NOVEMBER 2004 (article first published : 2004-11-12)

This concert was a triumphant preview of the programme which the KZN Philharmonic will present in London, with choir and soloists, on November 16 at the Barbican. Viewed in strictly musical terms it had some limitations. But as a showcase for local composers, singers and players it was a roaring success.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, subtitled “Hymn of Praise” was first given in Leipzig in 1840 and is rarely performed these days. It is easy to see why. The scoring for orchestra and choir is grandiose and dense, though the three soloists (tenor and two sopranos) have some lovely melodic lines. Mendelssohn wrote his best music when he was in a cheerful mood, and here is the opposite, a kind of Victorian grandeur which is not as impressive today as it was long ago.

Nevertheless, the 150 people on the City Hall stage produced some imposing and beautiful sounds under the authoritative direction of a young French conductor, Francois- Xavier Roth. The 80 members of the Durban Serenade Choral Society, clad in a colourful mixture of ethnic and everyday dress, sang with obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm in the 45-minute cantata section of the symphony which was performed at the concert. And indeed they were responsible for what I thought was the loveliest music of the evening, a central section in which the choir sings unaccompanied by the orchestra.

Bongani Tembe (tenor) and Linda Bukhosini (soprano) showed that their voices are still in very good shape, in spite of the many administrative duties borne by this couple. Miss Bukhosini appeared in a stupendous white creation (in contrast to the sober dark suits worn by Mr Tembe and the conductor) and after the interval she changed this for a striking modern ethnic-style dress in red and grey. I am not qualified to write about fashion, but it was that kind of evening. Both singers and a third soprano, Daphney Hlatshwayo, contributed greatly to the success of the concert.

The second half was devoted mainly to a first performance of Phelelani Mnomiya’s Zizi Lethu! Themba Lethu!, a set of 12 brief items for orchestra and voices written to mark 10 years of democracy in South Africa. As was to be expected, this was intensely patriotic; “Hymn of Praise” would be an appropriate title here too. Mr Mnomiya’s musical ideas were orchestrated by two Durban composers, John Simon and Christopher James. The result was a very professional and skilful composition, mainly of a lyrical type but with plenty of orchestral colour (percussion, brass, woodwind) to suggest the feel of Africa. Again, the soloists and choir made a notable contribution to a performance which was hailed at the end with prolonged cheering and whistling.

From the little-known and the new to the familiar: Ravel’s Bolero brought the concert to a successful conclusion, its relentless drive quite in keeping with what had gone before. - Michael Green

(Editor’s Note: The story regarding the KZNPO’s tour, a historic first for South Africa, can be found on artSMart’s Music pages. More information on the orchestra can be found by clicking on the KZNPO’s advertising banner on the previous page which will take you to their website. I will be accompanying the KZNPO in my capacity as a video producer but hope to be able to load a story or two to artSMart along the way. Watch this space!)




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