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KZNPO CONCERT: OCTOBER 27, 2005 (article first published : 2005-10-29)

This concert in the Durban City Hall was dedicated to Dr Vera Dubin, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday and who for the past 25 years has given great service to music in this city, notably through her Friends of Music organisation.

At the start of the concert tribute was paid to her by the orchestraís chief executive Bongani Tembe and by the veteran concert pianist Lionel Bowman, who first appeared on this City Hall stage in 1942. The occasion was given financial support by the Aaron Beare Foundation.

The concert itself started off, appropriately enough, with Brahmsís Academic Festival Overture, written in 1880 in acknowledgment of an honorary doctorate from the university in Breslau, a city which was then German and is now Polish (Wroclaw). Typically, Brahms seemed unaware that a musical response was expected of him until he was reminded by a friend.

The overture is an excellent piece, more festive than academic, and the KZN Philharmonic, under the direction of Conrad van Alphen, obviously enjoyed playing this music, which is largely based on old student songs. The rousing finale, the thirteenth century Gaudeamus Igitur, Let us therefore rejoice, while we are young, seemed an entirely apt theme for Vera Dubin, a person who has remained young at heart.

Schumannís Piano Concerto in A minor is an extraordinary work. Somebody I know, a good judge of music, thinks that the two greatest piano concertos are the Beethoven Fourth and the Schumann. One can debate this kind of thing endlessly, but he has a point. The Schumann is inimitable and in this performance the soloist, Ilan Rogoff from Israel, handled the luminous piano part with loving care and attention. Ilan Rogoff is a tall, grey-haired, dignified figure --- apparently he studied at various times with Vladimir Horowitz and Claudio Arrau, both of whom were born early in the twentieth century and have long been dead --- and he has a fine technique and a pleasantly undemonstrative manner at the keyboard. A good all-round performance was complemented by some excellent work from the orchestra, especially the cellos and the woodwind. After prolonged applause the pianist gave an encore, Chopinís dark and stormy Prelude in D minor, Op 28, No 24.

The programme was completed with Brahmsís Serenade No 1 in D major, a lengthy six-movement composition which has not often been played here. It is Brahms in relaxed, almost pastoral, mood and again the orchestra were in fine fettle. There was some lovely playing, especially in the extended Adagio which is the heart of this work.

I thought the Serenade might be unfamiliar to most of the audience. Maybe it was, but they really enjoyed it, judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end. - Michael Green




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