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KZNPO CONCERT: NOVEMBER 10 (article first published : 2005-11-11)

In an entertaining pre-concert lecture, conductor Leslie B. Dunner said that the three items on the programme were all given their first performances in the United States and that the concert could therefore be described as Americana. Well, Mr Dunner is an American but I think it is stretching the point a bit to list Prokofiev and Rachmaninov as part of Americana.

Be that as it may, the greatly gifted Mr Dunner took the orchestra through an energetic programme of works familiar and unknown. He seems to have the ability to extract every effort from his players, and it was a very busy evening for the 70-plus people on the Durban City Hall stage.

Nothing could have been more topical than the first item, Rosa Parks Boulevard by Michael Daugherty. Rosa Parks was, of course, the celebrated civil rights activist who refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, 50 years ago. She died just over a fortnight ago, and this was the first performance since her death of this composition, which was inspired by her.

Michael Daugherty is a composer based in Detroit and that city has a boulevard named after Rosa Parks, hence the title of this work. It begins with some bold effects from the brass (who play a prominent role throughout) and there are some faint hints of jazz and the blues (the composer started off as a jazz pianist). Lyrical passages intended to describe Rosa Parks are alternated with bursts of fortissimo cacophony, the latter presumably alluding to the civil rights struggle. With this kind of composition I sometimes wonder if the composer is more interested in the effects than in the substance of the music. Will it be well regarded 50 years from now? Who knows? But it is certainly an impressive work and it was well received by the City Hall audience.

By comparison, Sergei Prokofievís Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major written in 1921 is almost conservative. It is a jewel of the concerto repertory, from the limpid opening theme for solo clarinet to the piano pyrotechnics of the finale. The piano score is intimidatingly difficult, full of rapid runs and octaves which conductor Dunner described in his lecture as being ďlike HanonĒ (C.L. Hanon was the author of a famous volume of piano exercises). Andrew Warburton of Durban gave a brilliant and unfaltering performance. He played from the score, something distinctly unusual in a virtuoso work of this nature. He was rewarded at the end with a foot-stamping ovation, and indeed the performance was a high point of the concert season.

Somebody up there must love Rachmaninovís Symphonic Dances; this was the second or maybe the third time it had been played by the orchestra in the last couple of years. It is a fine composition, Rachmaninovís last, written in 1940, and aptly named because it is dominated by driving rhythms. Quite advanced music, with an Andante that has some strange echoes of Ravel. It is scored for a big orchestra, including harp, piano and five percussionists. Our players were in top form, with opulent string tone and expert contributions from the woodwind and brass. As I said, Leslie Dunner seems to bring out the best in them. - Michael Green




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