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KZNPO CONCERT: NOVEMBER 16 (article first published : 2006-11-19)

A resounding performance of Mendelssohnís oratorio Elijah brought the KZN Philharmonic Orchestraís symphony season to a triumphant end, with prolonged applause from a big audience.

The stately environment of Durbanís Edwardian City Hall seemed a particularly appropriate setting for this big choral work, which was first performed in Birmingham in 1846 and is in many ways the apotheosis of the Victorian taste for religious music in the grand manner.

Mendelssohn, who died only a year later at the age of 38, was a major composer, notwithstanding later criticism that too much of his music is lightweight, and he certainly excelled in this big, dramatic presentation of the Old Testament prophet who persuaded his people that there was but one God.

The oratorio is written for orchestra, choir and four soloists and, in its original form, takes well over two hours to perform. As is customary, cuts were made on this occasion to reduce the time, but even then the concert went on twenty minutes later than usual. The audience did not mind in the least, judging by the ovation at the end.

And indeed it was a big event, with about two hundred people on stage making melodious, almost operatic, music that we do not often hear. The joint forces of the Durban Symphonic Choir and the Durban Serenade Choral Society amounted to about 140 singers, and in some ways they stole the show with their massive, well-balanced vocal output.

The soloists, all South Africans, were Beverley Chiat, soprano; Bulgarian-born Violina Anguelov, mezzo-soprano; Bongani Tembe, taking time off from his duties as the orchestraís chief executive to sing the tenor role; and Federico Freschi, baritone (and lecturer on the history of art at Wits University). And there was a relatively modest role for the boy soprano Benjamin van Aswegen.

These singers were all first-rate, with the major parts going to Beverley Chiat (a poised, pure-toned soprano} and Federico Freschi (a powerful and expressive baritone). This type of music seemed well suited to Bongani Tembeís tenor voice, and Violina Anguelov made a significant contribution.

The visiting German conductor Wolfgang Gonnenwein did an excellent job in holding together this large body of musicians and extracting from them all (including the orchestra) a high level of performance. He is, incidentally, one of the very few conductors who is presumably left-handed, holding the baton in that hand.

At this concert we said good-bye to three of the orchestraís long-serving members who are retiring: William Muir (viola), Stefan Olah (viola) and Erika Kassier (violin). It was a good idea to make on-stage presentations to them. - Michael Green




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