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KZNPO CONCERT: FEBRUARY 10 2005 (article first published : 2005-02-12)

This first concert of the year presented a world premiere performance, and not of some local effort but a work by a prominent young American composer. The Durban City Hall was packed but the truth is that Nathan Scalzone’s Revolution Square was not the attraction. What brought them in was a brilliant pianist playing two brilliant works by Sergei Rachmaninov.

Olga Kern from Russia had been well remembered here for her performance, a year or two ago, of Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor piano concerto. With her brother Vladimir Kern conducting she once again generated great enthusiasm in this first concert playing two big works by Rachmaninov, the Second Piano Concerto and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Ms Kern is a statuesque blonde, about 28 years old, with a modest demeanour away from the keyboard and a commanding presence at it. She immediately showed her authority in the big opening bell-like chords of the concerto, and in the dark swirling passages that follow. Her playing was sometimes a little wayward, but she has a massive technique and a big heart, and the audience loved it.

The beautiful Adagio was given an emotionally charged interpretation. Rachmaninov himself, one fancies, would have played it with more reserve, but this was a beautiful young Russian woman playing the music of her homeland. The purists might object to her sometimes extravagant keyboard mannerisms, but the fact is that if all pianists played as well as this there would more big audiences at concerts.

The Paganini Rhapsody, one of Rachmaninov’s best works, is a set of 24 variations on a quirky little theme by Niccolo Paganini, the great violin virtuoso of 200 years ago. It is a masterpiece of skill, ingenuity, poetry and occasional ferocity. Both orchestra and soloist were in top form, especially in Variation 18, the most extended and beautiful of them all. They were rewarded with a foot-stamping ovation.

As for Nathan Scalzone’s Revolution Square, this turned out to be an enigmatic kind of work in the modern idiom, the composer’s intention being to honour the Velvet Revolution, the bloodless coup that gave rise to the modern Czech and Slovak republics. After an expressive woodwind opening the music develops in fragments of themes with strong rhythms and plenty of nervous energy.

The programme note said the work “exists in two keys simultaneously, G major and G flat major”. As these two notes are next to each other in the chromatic scale one would expect a degree of dissonance, and this indeed was the case. - Michael Green

For more information on the KZN Philharmonic, click on the banner advert on the main pages and this will take you direct to the KZNPO’s website.




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