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KZNPO CONCERT: MARCH 9 (article first published : 2006-03-11)

An overwhelming performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor was the high point not only of this concert by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra but possibly of the entire symphony season.

The occasion was a triumph for the players and for the conductor, Omri Hadari, and the Durban City Hall audience gave them a prolonged and excited ovation.

This symphony was written in 1937, at a time when Dmitri Shostakovich felt personally threatened by Stalin’s brutal regime. Many of his friends had disappeared in one of the dictator’s political purges and Shostakovich himself had incurred Stalin’s displeasure with an earlier composition.

Notwithstanding all this, he produced a symphony which stands as a kind of musical monument to human defiance, sorrow and courage, a highly individual and non-conformist expression if ever there was one. In a pre-concert lecture, Omri Hadari quoted Leonard Bernstein as saying that this symphony is the most significant musical work of the twentieth century. Such judgments are always subjective of course, even from so august a source, and the twentieth century competition includes Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Sibelius, Schoenberg. But the power and majesty of Shostakovich’s music is undeniable and it obviously had a profound effect on this Durban audience.

Even after 69 years the symphony remains “modern” but its big themes, dramatic contrasts and brilliant orchestration make it readily accessible. Omri Hadari conducted this 45-minute work without a score and drew some outstanding playing from the members of the orchestra, all of whom have their important moments, strings brass, woodwind, percussion. A memorable performance that was testimony to the high quality of our orchestra.

The first half of the programme was occupied by Tchaikovsky’s well-known and beautiful Violin Concerto. A last-minute cancellation by the scheduled soloist brought in the Bulgarian violinist Vanya Milanova but nobody would have thought she was a stopgap. She is a mature artist with an impressive record and there was much to admire in her performance. She is a composed figure but has quite a passionate style of playing. There were one or two moments of uncertain intonation on high notes but in the lower register she produced a full, sweet tone and there can be no doubting her technical prowess. All this was much appreciated by the audience, and in response to a foot-stamping ovation she gave two encores. - Michael Green




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