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FOM CONCERT: BRONWEN FORBAY (article first published : 2007-06-29)

Bronwen Forbay is one of Durbanís favourite daughters, a lovely singer with a delightful personality, and she showed her wide range of talents in this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre.

She is now a music doctorate student at the University of Cincinnati, in the mid-western United States, and in this recital she was assisted by three of her colleagues from that music school: her husband Randall Umstead (tenor), who is an American; Stephen Pierce, piano, who is a South African; and Ryan Prijic, an American violinist.

At first glance the programme looked intimidatingly obscure. It included settings by Benjamin Britten of four poems by W.H Auden, four Afrikaans songs, and a lengthy meditation by the twentieth century French composer Olivier Messiaen. I think the audience did find the Britten and the Messiaen heavy going (as most audiences would) but the sheer artistry of the performers carried the listeners successfully through this abstruse music.

Bronwen Forbay and Stephen Pierce gave informal introductions to the works, and this helped a good deal. Of the four Britten/Auden songs one entitled Nocturne was readily accessible, a rather romantic piece, and the others were given with great animation by singer and pianist (a very good pianist).

Introducing Messiaenís 1931 composition La mort du nombre, The death of numbers, Stephen Pierce said it was rarely performed. This is not surprising, given the elliptical nature of the words and music, but again Bronwen Forbayís full and admirably trained soprano voice carried the day, especially in the ecstatic final stanza. In this work she and the pianist were joined by Randall Umstead (tenor) and Ryan Prijic (violin).

Four Afrikaans songs by S le Roux Marais (1896-1976) proved immediately attractive: the first, Heimwee (Homesickness), rather in the manner of Mendelssohn, the second, Kom dans Klaradyn (Come dance Klaradyn), a lilting Viennese-type waltz, and the fourth, Rooidag (Daybreak), a brief and exuberant setting of a poem by N.P. van Wyk Louw.

Incidentally, the listeners were greatly helped by the fact that the programme carried the words of all these songs, with English translations by Bronwen herself. During the course of the evening she sang in English, Afrikaans, French and Italian.

Territory that was more familiar was covered in songs by Delibes (The Maidens of Cadiz), Rossini (the celebrated Una voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville), Mozart and Verdi, and here the singer showed her tonal agility and accuracy in a full display of coloratura pyrotechnics.

In response to prolonged applause she sang an encore, the spiritual Heís got the whole world in His hand, which provided perhaps the most heart-touching moments of a beautifully warm, intimate concert.

The eveningís prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was Aristide du Plessis, a cellist with a skill and maturity beyond his 17 years. Accompanied by his mother, Hester du Plessis, he gave a confident and eloquent account of Max Bruchís Kol Nidrei. - Michael Green




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