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KZNPO CONCERT: NOVEMBER 3 (article first published : 2005-11-7)

The KZN Philharmonic wandered successfully off the beaten track in this Durban City Hall concert on November 3 conducted by the visiting American Leslie B. Dunner, who has in recent years become a great favourite here.

Only one item - Bizetís Symphony No. 1 in C major - could be construed as a familiar or popular composition but the entire programme offered consistent interest and stimulation.

A chamber work, Mozartís Serenade in E flat major, K 375, opened the proceedings and it offered the rather quaint sight of a group of only eight wind players under the baton of a distinguished conductor, a luxury that probably didnít exist in Mozartís time. The Serenade is written for two clarinets, two bassoons, two oboes and two horns. It is a graceful, elegant, five-movement work lasting about 30 minutes, and the players, all of them from the orchestra, excelled. This sort of music can cruelly expose any deficiencies in technique, and the players rose to the occasion splendidly.

Camille Saint-Saens wrote two cello concertos and the French cellist Jerome Pernoo played the lesser known, and indeed the lesser, of them, the Concerto No 2 in D minor. The 33Ėyear-old Jerome Pernoo is a romantic figure, with his flamboyant bowing, good looks, floppy hair, smiles and grimaces; his appeal is almost as much visual as it is aural. He is, however, a top-class player, and he extracted full value from Saint-Saensís difficult score. He produced a beautiful tone in the broad melodies of the slower passages and handled the rapid virtuoso sections with great skill and authority. But the concerto is not a patch on Saint-Saensís first cello concerto (in A minor), which has not been played here for some time.

Estonia is a small Baltic state (population about 1,4 million) but it has a strong musical tradition which survived years of brutal occupation by the Soviet Union, and it has produced several significant modern composers. One of them is 70-year-old Arvo Part, and the orchestra played his Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten written in 1977, the year after the death of the English composer.

The term ďcantusĒ, Latin for song, originates in the church music of the fifteenth century, and Partís imposing tribute to Benjamin Britten does indeed have a kind of mediaeval monastic quality. It runs for only six minutes and is scored for string orchestra and a sole tubular bell. The bell tolls distantly and the strings play slow descending minor scales which eventually have an almost hypnotic effect. The audience is enveloped in a cloak of dense sound and the music ends in a dark glow. Most impressive.

After the intensity of the Cantus came Bizetís symphony, one of the most agreeable of all the lighter works in the symphonic repertory. Written in 1855, the score was left unplayed at the Paris Conservatoire for eighty years until it was revived by Felix Weingartner in 1935. It is an irresistible work, skilfully scored and full of melodies (especially in the Adagio) that remind one that this was the future composer of Carmen. Orchestra and conductor gave a vivacious performance which was much appreciated by the audience. - Michael Green




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