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KZNPO CONCERT: OCTOBER 20, 2005 (article first published : 2005-10-24)

Two concert grand pianos occupied much of the Durban City Hall stage for part of this most enjoyable concert with a distinctly French flavour. The occasion was a performance of one of the most witty and engaging compositions of the twentieth century, Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor.

The soloists were the British piano duo David Nettle and Richard Markham, last heard in Durban when they gave a splendid recital for the Friends of Music. They have been playing together for 25 years, and their rapport is at times almost uncanny. The pianos were placed lengthwise across the stage, with the lid of one removed entirely to obtain an equal volume of sound from both. I suppose the pianists could just about see each other, but that hardly seemed necessary; their co-ordination was absolutely precise.

Furthermore, their playing was brilliant and expressive throughout. This 20-minute concerto does not plumb any depths of emotion; it is elegant, high-spirited, Parisian. I thought the pianists were at their best in the lyrical second subject of the first movement and in the second movement, the enchanting, Mozartian Larghetto.

The conductor of the evening was Conrad van Alphen, who was born in Pretoria 42 years ago, has spent much of his life in Holland and is now chief conductor of an orchestra in Kislovodsk, Russia. Under his direction the orchestra gave the pianists skilful and sympathetic collaboration.

Prolonged applause brought forth two encores from the pianists: the first movement of Darius Milhaud’s brilliant Scaramouche suite, based largely on Latin American music, and Poulenc’s L’embarquement pour Cythere, Pilgrimage to Cythere, a rather sardonic interpretation of a famous, ethereal eighteenth-century painting by Watteau.

The concert opened with Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole, a lovely performance of this vivid, sultry music, and closed with Ravel’s colourful orchestral version of Mussorgsky’s piano work Pictures at an Exhibition, in my opinion one of the very few examples of an arrangement being better than the original.

Fashion note: the pianists wore white tie and tails, but their coats were gold; and the conductor wore a black open-neck tunic. All rather unusual but quite tasteful. - Michael Green




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