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KZNPO CONCERT: MARCH 29, 2007 (article first published : 2007-03-30)

The KZN Philharmonic Orchestraís summer season ended on a festive note with a popular programme presented to a biggish audience in the Durban City Hall.

The programme was literally a peopleís choice. A newspaper competition in the Sunday Tribune attracted about 200 entries from readers who submitted their ideas of what the orchestra should play. The winner, Desmond Clark of Welkom, sent in the programme that the Durban Symphony Orchestra played in 1963 when he and his wife were on honeymoon here.

And so the fine, familiar music was played again, in the presence not only of Mr Clark and his wife but also of Moira Birks, who was the piano soloist 44 years ago. Moira Birks, now Kearney, is an honoured veteran of the music scene in Durban and South Africa. She is now 91.

The conductor for the evening, Owain Arwel Hughes, a distinguished visitor from Britain, was benign and authoritative, although I must admit that the orchestra could probably play these compositions in their sleep: Mendelssohnís Hebrides Overture, Schubertís Unfinished Symphony and Rimsky-Korsakovís Capriccio Espagnol.

Rachmaninovís Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor did, however, present some unusual challenges. The soloist was Vladimir Viardo, a 57-year-old Russian-born virtuoso, who has over the years built a substantial international reputation. He has a big technique, and he produced a lovely cantabile tone in the concertoís many lyrical passages. His tempi were unusually brisk, and in the middle of the final movement conductor and orchestra seemed hard pressed to match the soloistís speed.

Be that as it may, the audience were greatly impressed, and the pianist gave them an encore: Schubertís well-known Serenade (Standchen), arranged by Liszt. This is one of the best of Lisztís many transcriptions of Schubert songs, and it was beautifully played.

Incidentally, it is interesting to speculate on how many times Rachmaninovís second concerto has been played since its first performance 106 years ago. Thousands of times? Tens of thousands? Who knows? - Michael Green




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