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KZNPO CONCERT: JUNE 16, 2005 (article first published : 2005-06-17)

It may have been the public holiday or the informal long weekend or the Comrades Marathon or the programme. Whatever the reason, the attendance at the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic’s symphony concert in the Durban City Hall was conspicuously lower than it was at the previous week’s operatic evening.

A pity, because the audience heard an excellent solo violinist and some brilliant playing from the orchestra itself under the baton of the popular Chinese conductor En Shao. The soloist was Polish-born Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne, who played the Violin Concerto in D minor by Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978).

Khachaturian, an Armenian who spent much of his time trying to placate the cultural commissars of the Soviet regime, is a relatively minor composer who gained popularity in the west with the Sabre Dance from his ballet Gayaneh, the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from the ballet Spartacus (played by the KZNPO not long ago), a waltz from the Masquerade incidental music, and a piano toccata. The violin concerto, written in 1940, is the best of his large pieces. It is attractive rather than profound, colourfully orchestrated, with driving folksy rhythms in the outer movements and a long and expressive central Andante.

Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne made light of its considerable difficulties, notably in the long first movement cadenza. His technical agility was matched with a penetrating sweetness of tone in the lyrical passages, especially in the slow movement, in which the violinist plays an extended and eloquent theme against the slow pulsing of the orchestra. An outstanding performance which was rewarded with prolonged applause.

The concert opened with a rousing performance of the well-known Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, and the Russian master’s Symphony No 2 in C minor occupied the second half. This is one of Tchaikovsky’s lesser known symphonies and it is called the Little Russian because of its references to Ukrainian music; in his day Russians called the Ukraine “Little Russia”. It is a fine work, from its opening horn melody (rather similar to a theme in Tchaikovsky’s first symphony) to the splendid blaze of the full orchestra at the end.

En Shao extracted full value from this lovely music, conducting without a score. In an entertaining pre-concert lecture he said it was better for a conductor to bury the music in his head than to bury his head in the music (looking at the score). And here was the proof. - Michael Green.




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