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KZNPO CONCERT: 17 MARCH 2005 (article first published : 2005-03-19)

This was a connoisseurís programme by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra: Ravel, Saint-Saens and Prokofiev, represented by fine music that is not unfamiliar but is not heard very often in our concert halls.

The Durban City Hall audience obviously enjoyed it all. The visiting British conductor Adrian Sunshine drew forth some outstanding playing from the orchestra, especially in Prokofievís Symphony No.5 in B flat, and Francois du Toit from Cape Town was a brilliant soloist in the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor.

The concert opened with Maurice Ravelís Mother Goose Suite, a set of five delicate fairy-tale pieces originally conceived as a piano duet for children. Listening to Ravelís subtle and sensuous orchestration it is hard to believe that the work started life at the keyboard.

Camille Saint-Saens is a somewhat neglected composer. I donít know why. It is hard to think of any of his major compositions that do not give great enjoyment. The G minor concerto, written in just 17 days in 1868, is full of good tunes, driving rhythms and a kind of Gallic wit and urbanity that is so typical of this composer. It starts with a long piano solo in the manner of Bach and ends with a wild tarantella. Between these movements Saint-Saens places a catchy, humorous scherzando instead of the usual slow movement.

Francois du Toit gave an exceptional account of the formidably difficult piano part. He has a pleasantly undemonstrative keyboard demeanour, handling the technical problems with skill and aplomb, and he was rewarded with prolonged applause.

The orchestra was enlarged substantially for Sergei Prokfievís fifth symphony, with, inter alia, 12 brass players, four percussionists, piano and harp. This symphony was written in 1944 and seems to me to symbolise the composerís somewhat ambivalent position in Soviet Russia. It is patriotic music but parts of it are melancholy and other parts are distinctly sardonic. The scoring is brilliant and the general effect quite overpowering. To most ears the music is still ďmodernĒ, even though the composer died more than 50 years ago (on the same day, in 1953, as Josef Stalin).

Adrian Sunshine and the big orchestra gave a totally convincing interpretation of this huge, complex work. A memorable evening for the audience and, I think, the players. - Michael Green




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