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KZNPO CONCERT: MAY 25, 2006 (article first published : 2006-05-26)

Beethoven and Shostakovich may seem a rather strange pairing on a programme but the conductor at this KZNPO concert, the visiting Leslie B. Dunner from Chicago, drew attention in a pre-concert lecture to certain thematic links between Beethovenís Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor and Shostakovichís Symphony No 10.

I think that these connections were lost on the vast majority of the Durban City Hall audience. I also think that the vast majority found Beethovenís 30-minute concerto much more digestible than the Shostakovich symphony, which runs for nearly an hour.

Ah well, Beethoven is hard to beat. The soloist in the concerto was the Israeli pianist Aviram Reichert, a tall lean young man with a keyboard manner so energetic that at one stage I thought he was in some danger of falling off the piano stool. But there was nothing wrong with his playing. Extracting a full tone from the new Steinway, he gave a brilliant interpretation of this splendid work, commanding and controlled in the forceful first movement (which includes a long and complex cadenza), sparkling in the final rondo and exquisitely meditative in the slow movement.

This movement, Largo, is for me the finest thing in the concerto, slow-breathing, poised, serene. Not for the first time, I reflected that, in my view, the true test of a concert pianist is not the ability to play well in the fast passages but the ability to play well in the slow ones. And I reflected that after 206 years (this concerto was written in 1800), Beethoven, the supreme master, still has the power to stir the blood, tingle the spine and bring a tear to the eye.

For an encore Aviram Reichert played Chopinís Etude Op 10 No 5, the celebrated black notes study. It is marked Vivace but he played it Prestissimo. I have never heard it played faster. We live in the age of speed.

The Shostakovich symphony is a massive work written in 1953, after the death of Stalin, in a sense of relief and of retrospective horror at the suffering imposed by the dictator. It is formidable for the players and the listeners. Apparently many members of the orchestra had never played this work before and some had never heard it. It speaks volumes for Dr Dunnerís stature as a conductor that from this mass of musical material, teeming with difficult and dissonant ideas and effects, he produced a coherent and convincing performance that earned prolonged applause at the end. - Michael Green




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