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FOURIE CD (article first published : 2006-10-1)

Most South African classical composers are not well known to the public at large, but they work away in the background, producing music that is interesting, attractive and adventurous.

They are fortunate in having a skilled interpreter in the form of the pianist Benjamin Fourie, who was born in Pietermaritzburg 45 years ago and now lives at Bethulie in the Free State, about 180 km south of Bloemfontein.

With wide experience as a music lecturer and as a pianist, he has specialised in playing contemporary music, especially that by his compatriots. In the 1990ís he produced two CDs of South African music, the second of which featured the two men who are probably our pre-eminent composers, Arnold van Wyk and Hubert du Plessis.

He has now produced a third CD featuring Hubert du Plessis again and three lesser-known composers, Dirk de Klerk, Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph and Etienne van Rensburg. Du Plessis, born in 1922, is a veteran of our musical scene. De Klerk, born 1959, Zaidel-Rudolph, born 1938, and Van Rensburg, born 1963, are relative newcomers but each has already produced a substantial amount of significant music.

This CD begins with Dirk de Klerkís Variations on an English Lullaby. The title is self-explanatory, but the variations are actually based on a song of American origin, Hush my Babe. The format of the piece is fairly simple but the composer achieves a wide range of effects with some dramatic contrasts that would probably awake the babe rather than hush it.

Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, the first woman in South Africa to obtain a doctorate in composition, is represented by Three Dimensions for Piano, sub-titled A European City Awakens, An African City Pulsates, An Eastern City Meditates. The technique is advanced and the music is rather mysterious and impressionistic. The effects are certainly interesting, and at times they seem almost perverse.

Etienne van Rensburg chooses the exotic title Se una notte díinverno, derived from a novel by Italo Calvino translated into English as If on a Winterís Night a Traveller. There are three pieces here, interlinked, tense and again rather mysterious. Clever, ingenious and not readily accessible. You have to be patient and persistent with music like this.

Predictably enough, I found Hubert du Plessisís Four Piano Pieces, Op. 28 the most attractive part of the entire CD. The titles again are self-explanatory: Homage to Faure, Homage to Ravel, Homage to Chopin and Homage to Couperin. Du Plessis gives an effective modern musical commentary on these great composers, with suggestions of Faureís rippling piano figurations, Ravelís sharp brightness, the rhythmic drive of a Chopin mazurka, and the 17th century elegance of Louis Couperin and his nephew Francois, Couperin le Grand.

This CD is a worthwhile enterprise that can be recommended to those who value serious music and are prepared to explore the unfamiliar. I donít know if it is available in the shops, but you can get it from Benjamin Fourie, e-mail bsf.musique@mweb.co.za or phone 051 763 0690. - Michael Green




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