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KZNPO CONCERT: MAY 18 (article first published : 2006-05-20)

A programme of mainly cheerful Mozart and Haydn opened the KZN Philharmonic Orchestraís winter season, with the visiting American conductor Leslie B. Dunner in charge. Apart from his skills as a musician, he is a warm, humorous and sympathetic personality, as is shown by his pre-concert lectures and by the smiling response of many of the orchestraís players when he takes the podium. It is a rapport that makes for good playing, as this concert demonstrated.

In 1761 Haydn wrote three symphonies as his credentials when he was seeking a post at the Esterhazy estate near Vienna. He called them Morning, Afternoon and Evening, and it was the third, Le Soir, Evening, that opened the KZNPOís concert. It is an early work, No.8 of Haydnís 104 symphonies, and it really is quite far removed from the composerís later great symphonies such as the last, the London. But it has great charm and it does look forward to the greatness to come. Among the many inventive touches are a double bass figure in the third movement and the rapid figuration for violins in the fourth. Much pleasure here.

Mozartís Piano Concerto No.19 in F major is unusually rich in melody, even by this masterís prodigal standards. The first movement alone contains eight brief themes. The opening subject is particularly catchy, with its almost military rhythm, and the concerto as a whole is unflaggingly cheerful and positive. Christopher Duigan of Pietermaritzburg, one of South Africaís best and most versatile pianists, was the soloist. (Sartorial note: he wore a natty light-brown suit and open-neck pink shirt). His playing was first-rate throughout, with a brilliant account of the fast and difficult final movement.

After the interval, more Mozart. The grim and foreboding Don Giovanni Overture was followed by the more peaceful atmosphere of the Coronation Mass, so named because it was performed at the crowning in Prague of one or maybe two kings of Bohemia.

This is wonderfully expressive music, concise and not overpoweringly solemn. Mozart is of course the vocal composer par excellence, and there are many lovely moments in this work. The choral singing was provided by the Durban Symphonic Choir, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. There were nearly a hundred singers in the choir, and they were in good form, with precise attack and reasonably clear articulation.

The soloists were three local singers, Bongi Simelane (soprano), Mhlonishwa Dlamini (tenor) and Juan Burgers (baritone), plus the mezzo-soprano Charlotte Stoppelenburg from Holland. The locals were greeted with great enthusiasm by friends in the audience, and I found it gratifying to think that the magic of Mozart is spreading to those who hitherto have not had much opportunity to hear or sing or play his music. - Michael Green




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