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KZNPO CONCERT: JUNE 29 (article first published : 2006-07-3)

This was the final concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestraís winter season, with Beethoven, Chopin and Dvorak on the menu for the Durban City Hall audience.

Under the baton of the visiting Swiss conductor Antoine Marguier the orchestra gave compelling accounts of Beethovenís Egmont Overture and Dvorakís lengthy and beautiful Symphony No. 6 in D major. But without question the evening belonged to the Israeli pianist Ilan Rogoff for his playing of Chopinís Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor.

Chopinís two piano concertos are apprentice works, written when the composer was 20 years old and designed really to meet the critical and public expectation that a serious composer had to offer some full-scale compositions. Chopin was not a natural composer for the orchestra, and the concertos have been much criticised by ponderous musical pedants because their orchestral parts are not much more than accompaniments for the piano.

The fact is, though, that the piano writing bears Chopinís special imprint. It is brilliant, expressive, poetic, and after nearly 200 years the two concertos retain their place in the hearts of listeners.

Ilan Rogoff has played in Durban before, and I felt then that he was an expert but rather dour pianist. This time he seemed a very different performer. Maybe it was the inspiration of Chopin or the inspiration of the orchestraís splendid new Steinway piano, but whatever the reason Mr Rogoff excelled himself with a memorable performance of the E minor concerto.

He is a tall, grey-haired, dignified figure. He wore white tie and tails, a pleasant change from the eccentric garb of some soloists today. He is undemonstrative at the keyboard. Not crouching and leaping, he lets his hands do the talking.

In his calm but commanding way he extracted a beautiful singing tone from the piano in Chopinís many lyrical passages, especially in the first and second movements, and he showed an accomplished technique in the virtuoso parts of the work. His sense of total absorption in the music communicated itself to the audience, who listened with a kind of rapt attention.

At the end there was a prolonged foot-stamping ovation. The pianist responded with two Chopin encores, the Prelude in D minor Op. 28 No. 24 and the Nocturne in E minor Op 72 No 1. - Michael Green




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