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FOM CONCERT: ENSEMBLE HANS GAL (article first published : 2007-08-16)

Friends of Music presented a connoisseurís chamber concert with the Ensemble Hans Gal but, unfortunately, very few connoisseurs were prepared to turn up for it at the Durban Jewish Centre. The audience was sparse, to put it mildly.

Perhaps this was predictable. Four of the five items on the programme were from the twentieth century and one wonders whether a leavening of Beethoven or Mozart might not have attracted more listeners.

Ah well, the faithful few were rewarded with playing of the highest quality in a long and taxing programme. The performers were Mark Nixon, piano, Shelley Levy, clarinet, and Katalin Kertesz, violin, the first two South Africans with wide experience abroad, the third a Hungarian. They call themselves the Ensemble Hans Gal because they are dedicated to playing the works of this Austrian-born composer who spent half his life in Britain and died there in 1987 at the age of 97. There is a personal connection: Katalin Kertesz, the violinist, is married to a grandson of the composer.

So the programme included a Trio for violin, clarinet and piano, Op. 97, by Hans Gal, written in 1950. It proved to be quite accessible, lyrical rather than abrasive, in the late romantic idiom rather than aggressively modern. Not least among its merits is the composerís deft balancing of the different tonal qualities of the three instruments, with the clarinet part well defined. The audience seemed to enjoy it.

The concert opened with the first of Brahmsís two Sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, written three years before the composerís death in 1897. For such a late work this is surprisingly robust music, strong, vigorous. Both performers were in splendid form. Mark Nixon is an expert pianist, with a fine technique and an expressive approach and Shelley Levy played the clarinet part with great skill and confidence. For me the delightful third movement, Allegretto grazioso, was a high point of the entire evening.

Debussyís Sonata for violin and piano brought Katalin Kertesz to the fore. She is a violinist of poise and good judgment, and she produces a full, rounded tone. The sonata, written a year before Debussyís death in 1918, has been criticised as being a jumble of ideas and a falling-off in the composerís creative gifts. I find it very attractive in its free, rhapsodic way, and Mark Nixon and Katalin Kertesz certainly extracted full value from the music.

Two more twentieth century works completed the programme: Aram Khachaturianís busy, folksy Trio for violin, clarinet and piano and Bela Bartokís Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano, lively, rhythmical and uncompromisingly dissonant, as one would expect from this Hungarian master. And the encore offered more from the twentieth century: a typically catchy item by Darius Milhaud.

The eveningís prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was the soprano Ziningi Hlomuka, who is a third year BA Music student. Accompanied by Bobby Mills, she sang two arias by Donizetti, displaying a good, true voice of considerable agility, a sense of musical style, and a pleasant stage presence. - Michael Green




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