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KZNPO CONCERT: MARCH 22, 2007 (article first published : 2007-03-25)

A stunning performance of Sibeliusís Symphony No 2 in D major was the high point not only of this concert by the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra but possibly of the entire concert season.

This is a great work, and its popularity and repeated performances over the past hundred years have not diminished its impact, especially when it is played as well as it was at this concert in the Durban City Hall.

The orchestra were in top form, with some exceptional contributions from the brass and woodwind. The visiting British conductor Owain Arwel Hughes, grey-haired and elegant, on the podium here for the first time, drew a splendid response from the players.

Earlier in the evening I had thought him a rather cool customer in works by Faure and Villa-Lobos, but these were smaller, calmer compositions. In the Sibelius he displayed great passion and vigour, and the result was an electrifying performance that was acknowledged with prolonged applause at the end.

The soloist of the evening was the guitarist James Grace, who teaches this instrument at the University of Cape Town. He played the Guitar Concerto, written in 1951, by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. It is an interesting 20-minute work, in the modern idiom but not aggressively so, with roots in the indigenous music of Brazil.

The guitar is a small-toned, intimate instrument and Villa-Lobos sanctioned the use of a microphone in performing this work. Without the loudspeakers on either side of the platform the sound of the guitar would have been lost in the City Hall, even though the orchestraís role is small and discreet.

James Grace, a tall young man with a mildly bohemian air, dark open-neck shirt, short haircut, played with great intensity and accuracy and extracted full value from this exotic score. The audience, who appeared to include a number of guitar-lovers, gave him an enthusiastic reception.

The concert opened with Faureís delightful Pavane, cool and subtle as always from this composer. - Michael Green




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