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KZNPO CONCERT: SEPTEMBER 13, 2007 (article first published : 2007-09-18)

On a rainy night, Chopin and Tchaikovsky drew a biggish audience to the Durban City Hall for the opening concert of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra’s spring season.

The highlight of the evening was a glittering performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor by the young Russian-born pianist Margarita Shevchenko.

In spite of its numbering, this is the first of Chopin’s two piano concertos, written when the composer was a mere 19. Musical scholars have often been faintly patronising about its allegedly poor orchestration (I can’t see much wrong with it) and other technical deficiencies involving the sonata form. Nearly two hundred years later, this concerto (together with its companion in E minor) has survived triumphantly because of its pianistic brilliance and lyricism.

Played as well as it was at this concert, it is a captivating piece. Margarita Shevchenko has an impressive record, having performed as a soloist and with orchestras in many parts of the world, and it is easy to see and hear why she has been in such demand. She has long fingers and a fine keyboard technique, playing with an unusually flat hand and generally giving the impression that formidable technical difficulties are no problem at all.

What really distinguishes her playing is its refinement. Some virtuosos belong to the smash and grab school of piano playing, but not this one. She played the Chopin concerto with a crystal clarity and with accurately judged dynamics: lovely poetic phrasing, especially in the slow movement, but plenty of brio too, especially in the final movement.

This was an outstanding performance, and the artist responded to enthusiastic applause with an encore, Chopin’s Prelude in G major, Op. 28 No 3, playing the difficult left-hand part with astonishing speed and delicacy.

The concert, which was conducted by Naum Rousine, opened with Weber’s Oberon Overture (some very good playing here from the horns) and ended with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 in B minor, the “Pathetique”, beautiful, heart-rending and very much to the taste of the audience. - Michael Green




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