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KZN MUSICAL FIREWORKS (article first published : 2006-08-26)

This year will go down as Durban's Year of the Piano. It began in February with the unveiling of the KZN Philharmonic's new Steinway grand which has held the spotlight through two concert seasons as a succession of visiting pianists have contributed to its 'playing in' process. KZN virtuoso Christopher Duigan opened the mid-year season, and the forthcoming Spring Season features no less than six visiting and locally based pianists (excluding the opening concert, Stars of Tomorrow).

These include our own keyboard luminary, Andrew Warburton. He will appear with Gerhard Geist and Liesl-Maret Jacobs in a performance of Mozart's rarely-performed Lodron Concerto K242 , in its three-piano version; and in Saint-Saëns's delectable Carnival of the Animals with Geist as companion pianist, and with Pieter Dirk Uys as the narrator. Should be fun.

Some years ago while on a European working trip, the sight of a statue of Chopin at the keyboard stopped me in my tracks while jogging in the Parc Monceau in Paris. What caught my attention was the sculpture's accompanying figure, a woman swooning in transports of ecstasy at the pianist's feet. She epitomised the essence of the Romantic era, the high age of the Salon, when poets and virtuosi reputedly swept Parisian society off its feet in just such a manner.

Without indulging in quite this degree of emotional excess, local enthusiasts can enjoy a similar experience this Saturday. Making one of his relatively rare solo appearances in Durban these days, Christopher Duigan returns to UKZN's Howard College Theatre to put the hall's recently refurbished Steinway 'Model D' concert grand through its paces in what is being billed as a Piano Recital on the Grand Scale.

Duigan's meaty programme effectively traces the path of the star pianist from Mozart, who famously trumped the world's first accredited piano virtuoso, Clementi, in a public tryst in Vienna, through the tempestuous terrain of Beethoven and Chopin, to a fireworks display of Liszt at his most dazzling. "I am inspired by the knowledge that these composers, great pianist themselves, conceived this music at the piano and with the instrument in mind," says Duigan "The keyboard design of black and white notes and our hands are all the same. To discover the music one has to relive and re-inhabit the physical space they occupied. In a sense one is playing though the hands of the masters."

Duigan opens with Mozart's F Major Sonata K 332, published in Vienna in 1784 and noted particularly for its taxing third movement. Next on the programme is one of the staples of the piano repertoire, Beethoven's Sonata in F minor.

Op 57 'Appassionata', followed by Liszt's notoriously demanding Don Juan Fantasie, his spectacular virtuoso romp on themes of Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Chopin's towering Scherzo No 1. Tickets at R60 will be available at the door.

If you're a sucker for fireworks on the vocal front, you might like to note a rare new opera release from Decca records company. Yes, believe it or not, just when it seemed this former giant of innovative opera recordings had fallen back utterly on rehashes of its back catalogue, it has confounded skeptics with a thrilling new account of Rossini's all-but-unknown Roman stage piece, Mathilde di Shabran. This hybrid work's notoriously difficult vocal writing ensured its rarity until recently, when the Rossini revival got under way with a new generation of singers up to the composer's fiendish technical demands.

Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, Decca's current matinee idol, must have immense in-house clout to have prevailed on the powers that be to issue this high-risk release. It stems from a live production at the 2004 Rossini Festival in Pesaro. Flórez is certainly on top form as Corradino, the star role that launched him onto the international circuit ten years ago. So is the Parisian coloratura soprano, Annick Massis, who has the final say in the title role, delivering one of Rossini's trade-mark Rondo finales with thrilling assurance.

This specialist release might be hard to find through local suppliers, so best take the internet route. - William Charlton-Perkins




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