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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: THE BELA TRIO (article first published : 2006-04-27)

The chamber recital presented by Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre on Tuesday covered territory that was probably unknown to almost all of the audience. It was a most enjoyable experience, thanks to the quality of the music and the quality of the performers.

The trio consists of Berthilde Dufour (violin), Alain Danghin (clarinet) and Marika Hofmeyr (piano), the first two being French and the third a South African who has lived in France for the past 16 years. They are mature artists who have all won distinction in Europe. Their programme was devoted entirely to music from the twentieth century.

A tough programme, I thought, before the concert: unfamiliar works by Prokofiev, Poulenc, Bartok and Khachaturian. The music, and the playing, was something of a revelation. Berthilde Dufour, a tall woman of striking appearance, is a violinist of great skill and authority; the first notes of the Prokofiev Sonata No 2 in D major proclaimed this clearly. The clarinettist, Alain Danghin, has a style that is almost flamboyant. He not only plays his instrument but he brandishes it, rather in the manner of a jazz musician. The pianist, Marika Hofmeyr, seems less aggressive in personality but she played with great skill and sensitivity and shouldered, in performance terms, the heaviest burden of all, playing in all four items on the programme.

The Prokofiev sonata, dating from 1944, is a splendid work, bold and brilliant, with some of those grotesque touches that are so typical of this composer. This was followed by the Sonata for clarinet and piano by the French composer Francis Poulenc, written in 1962, a year before his death. Alain Danghin plays the clarinet with great vigour and conviction, and with tenderness too. The music was delightful, quintessentially French, especially the slow movement, Romanza. Incidentally, the programme note described the sonata as homophonic. This is not to be confused with homophobic; it means sounding the same or, in musical terminology, similar parts for the instruments.

The three-movement Contrasts for piano, violin and clarinet is a 1938 work by Bela Bartok, commissioned by the famous violinist Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman, the best-known clarinettist of all time. In typical Bartok manner it explores the far reaches of Hungarian folk music, with many strange dissonances and angular rhythms.

The final item was the Trio in G minor for clarinet, violin and piano written in 1932 by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Khachaturian is not my favourite composer- I find much of his music rather superficial and flashy - but this trio is a fine work, brilliantly scored and easy on the ear, especially in the last movement, a set of variations on a folk tune.

This was an outstanding concert, and it drew enthusiastic applause from the audience.

The evening’s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Brett Alborough from Kearsney College. Playing the recorder, he showed himself to be a skilful and poised performer in a well-judged short programme of music by Vivaldi, York Bowen and Rimsky-Korsakov, finishing with the latter’s well-known Bumble Bee. - Michael Green




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