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KZNPO CONCERT: MAY 26 (article first published : 2005-05-28)

The 26-year-old American pianist Spencer Myer created something of a sensation when he gave a solo recital a couple of weeks ago in Durban, and at the KZN Philharmonic concert on May 26 he repeated that success with a resounding performance of Brahmsís Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor.

The Durban City Hall audience gave him a prolonged ovation after his brilliant and thoughtful interpretation. Giving the pre-concert lecture the pianist said that this first concerto of Brahms was superior in many ways to the composerís later and more popular B flat concerto, a minority opinion with which I concur. The D minor concerto, accurately described in the programme note as ďessentially a symphony with pianoĒ, is a wonderful work, and it requires a big technique from the pianist and, in the slow movement especially, a loving understanding of Brahmsís innermost emotions.

Spencer Myer produced these qualities. The rapid double octave and long octave trills in the first movement were played with effortless aplomb, and there was highly expressive playing in the elegant, attenuated Adagio. If I have a criticism it is that the final movement was taken at very high speed. It is marked Allegro non troppo, not too fast, not Presto. But fast playing seems to be the hallmark of the piano virtuoso these days.

The orchestra, under the visiting conductor Baldur Bronnimann, who trained in Switzerland and now spends much of his time in Britain, was in good form, as indeed it was in Beethovenís Symphony No. 3, the Eroica, in the first half of the concert.

The original programme featured the Symphony No. 4, The Inextinguishable, written in 1915 by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen as a musical monument to the human spirit, but the orchestraís scores were somehow extinguished on their journey from Denmark to Durban. They didnít arrive in time and the Beethoven was substituted at the last minute, to the relief of a large section of the audience, I suspect. Perhaps we should call the Eroica the imperishable, because thatís what it is, written 200 years ago and sounding today as dramatic and moving and modern as ever it did.

Mr Bronnimann is a restrained kind of conductor, economical of gesture, but he drew forth some splendidly accurate and vigorous playing from the orchestra. He had moved the cellos centre stage from their customary position on the right, and perhaps this contributed to the good balance of string tone, particularly in the slow movement, the funeral march. And the horns, which play an important role in this symphony, produced some splendid sounds. - Michael Green




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