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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: LARA JONES & CHARLOTTE STOPPELENBURG (article first published : 2006-05-18)

The Friends of Music produced a lovely concert at the Durban Jewish Centre this week. Lara Jones is one of Durban’s best-loved pianists. We all knew she would play beautifully, and so she did. The surprise was her friend Charlotte Stoppelenburg. A visitor from Holland, she displayed a mezzo-soprano voice that was quite exceptional in its innate quality and artistic projection.

These two young ladies are almost the same age, 28 and 27 this year. They are both a pleasure to look at as well as to listen to. They are both steeped in the culture of old Europe, Lara through seven years of musical study in Germany, Charlotte because she comes from a family of musicians; her father is a distinguished Dutch composer, her younger sister is a concert soprano.

Together they presented a programme of music ranging from the eleventh century to the twenty-first, starting and finishing chronologically with items sung a cappella, unaccompanied, by Charlotte. The first was a religious incantation by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a German nun who was a kind of musical mystic. This was sung off-stage in a full, rich and accurate voice and the effect on the audience was instant and obvious. We all knew that we were hearing an unusually gifted singer.

The other unaccompanied item was an Elegy composed in 2002 by Willem Stoppelenburg, Charlotte’s father, as part of a theatre production about a symbolic conflict between prehistoric times and the modern world. The music is modern, as the singer warned us in advance, and indeed it is more a dramatic monologue than a song in the ordinary sense. Very impressive, not least in the acting ability of the singer.

For the rest of the programme we were on more familiar ground. Some of the originally planned items were omitted because the scores had inadvertently been taken back to Holland by Charlotte’s sister Josefien. The revised programme included Handel’s Ombra mai fu, one of the greatest melodies in the world, widely known as Handel’s Largo but actually a song addressed to a palm tree; a Gluck aria; dramatic and beautiful lieder by Schubert and Brahms; and four of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs.

In all of these, the piano plays an important and usually equal role. It is not a mere accompaniment. Lara’s keyboard contribution was impeccably judged, yielding to the singer when necessary, forceful at other times.

As a soloist she played two splendid but sometimes neglected works: Haydn’s Variations in F minor, and Ravel’s Sonatina. The Haydn is a poised and reflective composition and Lara played it with commanding technique and musical insight, giving due emphasis to the subtleties of harmony and counter-themes. And in the Ravel she captured the elegance and sparkle of this quintessentially French music.

The programme ended, appropriately enough, with some very grand opera, arias from Bizet’s Carmen and Saint-Saens’s Samson et Dalila.

The evening’s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Aristide du Plessis, a 16-year old cellist from Westville Boys’ High School, who made a favourable impression as he played Bach, Faure and Saint-Saens. - Michael Green




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