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KZNPO CONCERT: FEBRUARY 16 (article first published : 2006-02-17)

Following his hugely successful recital for the Friends of Music two days earlier, the German-Slovakian pianist Jan Gottlieb Jiracek gave a dazzling display when he appeared with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City Hall.

There was an unusually large audience for a programme of Mendelssohn, Liszt and Brahms. Perhaps the season’s opening concert of the season, at which the new Steinway piano was inaugurated, has stimulated support for the orchestra. One certainly hopes so. Good attendances will help ensure the survival of good music in KwaZulu/Natal.

On this occasion the customers certainly got their money’s worth. Jan Gottlieb Jiracek is an exceptionally gifted pianist and he has the kind of magnetism that establishes an immediate link with his audiences. To use an overworked word in its correct context, he has charisma.

Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major is a showpiece, of course, designed by the composer to show off his own prodigious abilities at the keyboard. But there is also plenty of poetry and emotion and passion in it, all of which was eloquently interpreted by Mr Jiracek. \Amid all the fireworks there was nothing finer than his playing of the long romantic soliloquy for the piano at the start of the slow movement, in which he produced a most beautiful tone in the piano’s upper register. With a large audience there is usually some audible fidgeting or coughing at some point or another. This time you could have heard a pin drop, so rapt was the attention of the listeners.

Acknowledging the foot-stamping ovation, the pianist gave a nine-minute encore, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A minor, played again with poetry as well as virtuosity.

The orchestra, conducted by Croatian-born Alexander Kalajdzic, was an admirable partner with the pianist in the Liszt and played with high distinction in Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. This symphony, written in 1885, is in many ways the composer’s finest work. If I had to describe it in one word I would say: majestic.

The players were in splendid form, especially the strings in the lovely broad cantabile tune of the second movement and the entire orchestra in the final Passacaglia, 30 variations on a theme taken from one of Bach’s cantatas. How fortunate we are to have live music of this quality in Durban. - Michael Green




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