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KZNPO CONCERT: NOVEMBER 9 (article first published : 2006-11-12)

Is there a more delectable piece of music in the entire repertory than Mozartís Clarinet Concerto in A major? I doubt it, and after hearing Dimitri Ashkenazy play the work with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, I have little doubt that most members of the Durban City Hall audience share my opinion.

The concerto was written in 1791, just two months before Mozartís death at the age of 35.It is a thing of grace and beauty, humour and poignancy, with no hint that its author was racked by ill-health and anxiety when he composed it. The clarinet was a relatively new instrument at the time, but Mozart showed an unerring grasp of its distinctive tonal qualities. And after more than two hundred years, the concerto remains the finest work in the clarinet literature.

Its qualities were admirably unfolded in a high quality performance by Dimitri Ashkenazy, who is the son of the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. His jaunty walk onstage is much like that of his famous father, and as a musician (albeit playing a very different instrument) he shows the same kind of skill and interpretative power. His performance was technically impeccable and full of lovely phrasing, especially in the leaps from bass to treble that occur often in this work.

The orchestra, under the baton of the visiting Dutch conductor Arjan Tien, an old favourite with Durban audiences, played with precision and discretion, and there was a prolonged ovation at the end.

Dimitri Ashekanzy gave an unaccompanied encore, a difficult and vivid piece called Homage to Manuel de Falla by the Hungarian composer Bela Kovacs. Most enjoyable, though it came to my ears a little oddly after the eternal beauties of Mozart.

The concert opened with Mozartís Magic Flute overture and after the interval we had a rather rare exposure to the grand world of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). He is an enigmatic figure in music, revered in his native Finland, well regarded in the United States and Britain, and less admired in continental Europe in spite of the enthusiastic sponsorship of conductors such as Toscanini, Beecham and von Karajan.

We all have our own ideas, but I think he is a great composer. The Symphony No. 6 in D minor, which the orchestra played at this concert, is the least known of his seven symphonies. In a brief statement from the podium, Arjan Tien said he thought it might be the first performance of the work in Durban.

It is in many ways Sibeliusís pastoral symphony, full of sunshine and shadow, birdsong, gentle, introspective and slightly melancholy. The performance was excellent, with the orchestra responding splendidly to the conductorís thoughtful and exact direction. --- Michael Green




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