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KZNPO CONCERT: JUNE 7, 2007 (article first published : 2007-06-11)

An all-Beethoven programme attracted a big audience to the Durban City Hall for this concert and they were rewarded with fine playing by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and the piano soloist.

Opening with a relatively little known piece, the Leonore Overture No. 1, the first of four overtures which Beethoven wrote for his opera Fidelio, the programme moved on to two of the great masterworks of music: the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, the Emperor, and the Symphony No. 5 in C minor.

The soloist in the Emperor was Florian Uhlig, the young German artist now based in London who inaugurated the orchestra’s new Steinway piano 16 months ago, playing Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. That was a good performance in difficult circumstances on a piano that, like a new car, had not yet been run in, so to speak.

Now the piano is at its best, with a full mellow tone and a seemingly easier keyboard touch for the player, and Florian Uhlig responded with a splendid, rather romantic performance of the Emperor. The pianist’s opening flourishes were played with great deliberation, even rubato, the slow movement was treated with tender loving care, and the final Rondo Allegro bought forth the élan of the virtuoso.

The Adagio, the slow movement, is the heart and soul of this concerto. Listening to this music, simplicity itself but infinitely expressive, I reflected that after two hundred years it has lost none of its ability to touch the listener to the core; the rapt attention of the City Hall audience was evidence of that. Beethoven is ageless.

The orchestra’s role in this work is as important as that of the soloist, and the visiting American conductor Leslie B. Dunner (an old favourite in Durban) led the players with insight and enthusiasm.

His precise and forceful beat was even more apparent in Beethoven’s fifth symphony, aptly described by the English novelist E.M. Forster as “the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man”. For concentrated intellectual power there is nothing to surpass the first movement, which says it all in seven and a half minutes, and the famous and persistent fate motif, the dot-dot-dot-dash of the V sign, was played by the orchestra with accuracy and conviction.

Likewise the triumphant last movement, with its final hammer blows admirably controlled and delivered by conductor and orchestra. The audience acknowledged a special occasion with prolonged applause. - Michael Green




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