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KZNPO CONCERT: MARCH 8 (article first published : 2007-03-11)

This concert by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra offered a programme of interesting and relatively unfamiliar works, and the Durban City Hall audience responded with commendable enthusiasm and appreciation.

The visiting Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert was in charge for an evening of Delius, Saint-Saens and Cesar Franck, and he drew some fine playing from the orchestra. He is a tall, lean, rather military figure - aged about 40, I would think. He conducts with a precise beat, without too many extravagant gestures and with obvious attention to detail.

The Walk to the Paradise Garden, from Frederick Delius’s opera A Village Romeo and Juliet, is a lovely work, impressionist, sensuous, glowing, with a rather nostalgic atmosphere and the players seemed to enjoy the experience as much as the audience did.

Konstantin Soukhovetski, the young Russian pianist now living in the United States, was the soloist in Saint-Saens’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, a concert hall rarity (the composer’s second and fourth piano concertos are far better known).

This fifth concerto is sometimes called “The Egyptian” because Saint-Saens wrote it while on visit to that country in 1896. It is exotic and it has musical ideas that the composer picked up in Egypt but it is not aggressively ethnic and it often sounds more Spanish that Egyptian (one should bear in mind, however, that Spanish music was of course influenced by Africa during the centuries of occupation by the Moors.

The concerto is melodious, brilliant, colourful. Konstantin Soukhovetski gave an exciting performance and was at his best in the beautiful and picturesque slow movement, the heart of the concerto. The work’s final flurry of dazzling octaves sent the audience into a foot-stamping rapture and the pianist supplied a lengthy and distinctly unusual encore: the “Ramble” by the mildly eccentric Australian-born composer Percy Grainger on the love duet from Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier.

Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor, written in 1888, is a big work by any reckoning, perhaps not to everybody’s taste but an imposing achievement nonetheless. Its cyclic construction, with frequent references to the main themes, is an interpretative challenge for conductor and players. They performed triumphantly and were rewarded with prolonged applause at the end. - Michael Green




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