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KZNPO CONCERT: FEBRUARY 24 2005 (article first published : 2005-02-25)

The KZN Philharmonic and a brilliant young visiting pianist gave the Durban City Hall audience full value for their money in this concert; it ran for two and a half hours, including the interval, and displayed some superb playing by soloist and orchestra.

Tchaikovsky and Mahler were the composers for the evening, very different and yet similar in their large-scale musical thinking and powerful presentation. There is not much new to be said musically about Tchaikovskyís Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, arguably the most famous of all major classical works, but 20 year-old Boris Giltburg, who was born in Moscow and now lives in Israel, gave a performance of exceptional brilliance and clarity.

He is a handsome young man who sits so far from the keyboard that I thought he might have some difficulty in reaching the notes. Never fear, he was in total control throughout this difficult and demanding work, with no hint of a false note or wrong accent. He has big hands, and they became a blur of speed in the rapid octave passages. His style of playing is flamboyant but unaffected, and his extreme technical prowess extended to a beautiful singing tone in the concertoís expressive passages, especially in the slow movement.

The orchestra, conducted by Omri Hadari, was a sympathetic partner throughout.

At the end the pianist was rewarded with a foot-stamping ovation. He responded with two Rachmaninov encores, including the highly effective arrangement of Fritz Kreislerís Liebesleid, a combination of poetry, dexterity and sentimentality that brought forth more beautiful playing.

The main work of the evening was Mahlerís massive 70-minute Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor, the best known of Mahlerís nine symphonies, probably because its poignant slow movement, Adagietto, was used 34 years ago in the film Death in Venice.

Omri Hadari is an intense Mahler enthusiast, and he conducted this complex and taxing work without reference to a score. The orchestration in this symphony is extraordinary, as are the sources of the music. In a pre-concert lecture the conductor pointed out that the opening trumpet solo (splendidly played by Michel Schneuwly) stems from, of all improbable things, one of Mendelssohnís Songs Without Words for the piano, that in E minor, Op. 62 No 3.

This symphony is an overpowering work, making great demands of concentration on the players and indeed the listeners. The audience seemed to enjoy the experience and the conductor and players emerged triumphant. For this occasion the orchestra consisted of more than 70 players, and the total effect at times was overwhelming. I doubt if I have heard the orchestra play better. A memorable concert. - Michael Green




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