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KZNPO CONCERT: SEPTEMBER 21 2006 (article first published : 2006-09-23)

Hungary and Russia, nineteenth and twentieth centuries: this was the terrain covered in the second concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season in the Durban City Hall.

It was a brilliant, virtuoso occasion in many ways, with a programme that displayed the full resources of the orchestra, a conductor who extracted maximum value from his players, and a solo pianist in a difficult and complex modern concerto.

The 35-year-old French conductor Francois-Xavier Roth and the Franco-German pianist Jean-Francois Heisser are both calm, controlled and undemonstrative performers, which is not to say that they lacked passion or vitality. Quite the reverse, in fact. There was full commitment to the music, but a pleasing absence of histrionic gestures.

The centrepiece of the concert, Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, was played with clarity, cohesion and a beautifully judged balance of tone, especially in the wonderfully eloquent slow movement, the noises of the night on the great plain of Hungary.

Bartok is not to everybody’s taste -- “Why play this when there’s so much beautiful music available?”, one member of the audience said to me afterwards -- but if you listen patiently and persistently the beauties and subtleties unfold. It’s not box office stuff, but I think the orchestra is right to play works like these if only as part of a broad musical education mission.

Berlioz’s well-known Hungarian March opened the programme and Tchaikovsky’s outstanding Romeo and Juliet overture brought forth a glowing and exciting performance, especially from the woodwind players, to whom the composer gave such an important role in this work.

Finally, back to the twentieth century with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, based on ballet music written nearly a hundred years ago. Stravinsky’s vivid and colourful score was played with verve, the conductor directing the various instruments with great precision, and the thrilling Final Hymn roused the audience to great enthusiasm. They gave the players a prolonged ovation. - Michael Green




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