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KZNPO CONCERT: MARCH 24 2005 (article first published : 2005-03-25)

A predictably sparse audience --- an esoteric programme on the eve of a long weekend - was in the Durban City Hall for this last concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestraís summer season, an occasion which bade farewell to one of the orchestraís most accomplished members and presented a major modern symphony that one is not likely to hear very often.

The departing player was the leader of the French horns, Katie Pryce, who is returning to England. She was the soloist in Richard Straussís Horn Concerto No 2 in E flat, written in 1942 when the composer was 78 years old. It is an attractive work --- Strauss wrote many splendid parts for the horn in his long composing career - and Katie Pryce negotiated its difficulties with skill and aplomb. The horn is a beautiful instrument but, as every concertgoer knows, it is easy for things to go wrong. In this performance, things all went right.

The all-German programme included two well-known Wagner pieces, the Flying Dutchman Overture and the Siegfried Idyll but the most remarkable item was undoubtedly Paul Hindemithís Mathis der Maler Symphony. Mathis der Maler means Mathias the Painter and the work (originally an opera) was inspired by the religious paintings of Mathias Grunewald, who died in 1528.

In a pre-concert lecture the conductor, Victor Yampolsky, circulated among his audience pictures of these paintings: the Angelsí Concert, depicting Madonna and child; the Entombed Christ, with a particularly grim version of the Crucifixion; and the Temptation of Saint Anthony, with the saint being tormented by the demons of Hell. Hindemithís music, written in the 1930ís, reflects these scenes with harsh and unrelenting clarity. It is advanced music, dissonant, cerebral, sometimes difficult to follow, but made accessible by the brilliance of the orchestral scoring, especially for the brass instruments. And it ends in a glorious blaze of sound which can have very few parallels in symphonic music.

Victor Yampolsky, who was born in Russia, has lived in the United States for 32 years and is a regular visitor to South Africa, achieved a triumph in his conducting of this symphony, and was rightly accorded great acclaim by the audience.

This concert season has been notable for the number of relatively unfamiliar works included, and for the omission of compositions by Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Brahms, Bach, Handel, Schumann. I donít know what the box office figures are, but I would guess that the biggest attendance was at the very first concert, when Rachmaninov dominated the proceedings.

Programme building is a difficult task, and one can hardly criticise a policy of broadening the musical spectrum offered by the orchestra. All the same, the orchestra must keep the customers coming in. Perhaps there will be a few more old favourites next season. - Michael Green




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