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KZNPO CONCERT: JUNE 8 (article first published : 2006-06-11)

Music from the twentieth century occupied this programme by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, albeit music by two very different composers: the Frenchman Maurice Ravel representing the controlled grace and elegance and power of Old Europe, the American Aaron Copland displaying the warm vigour and romance of the New World.

It is distinctly unusual to have two piano concertos on one programme but Ravelís concertos, both written in 1931, are not long works. They are nevertheless very difficult to play, like much of Ravelís piano music. If the task was daunting, the visiting American pianist Spencer Myer didnít show it, in fact he didnít turn a hair. He made a great impression when he played the Brahms D minor concerto with the orchestra a year ago, and this time he showed his versatility in the very different milieu of Ravel.

The concertos themselves make an interesting contrast. The G major is a glittering, sophisticated piece, brilliantly yet delicately scored, rather like a chamber work. The D major concerto for left hand alone is a very different proposition. Written for Paul Wittgenstein, an Austrian pianist who lost an arm in World War 1, it is a more dramatic and in many ways a more substantial work, and formidably difficult, with the composer exercising great ingenuity in writing a complex score for one hand.

Spencer Myer surmounted the difficulties triumphantly in what was a real tour de force. Pianists in the Durban City Hall audience must have been lost in admiration at the dexterity and expressiveness of his left hand. In the G major concerto, his playing was again first-rate, with a lovely limpid tone in the long piano soliloquy which opens the second movement. Listening to this music one had a poignant sense of a world that is past and will not return.

The conductor, Nicholas Cleobury from England, took us across the Atlantic for the rest of the programme, two well-known works by Aaron Copland: the vivid El Salon Mexico and then more contemplative suite called Appalachian Spring, depicting pioneer days in Pennsylvania.

The conductor drew forth a consistently good performance from the orchestra, and the percussion, brass and woodwind sections had a busy, enjoyable and successful time. - Michael Green




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