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KZNPO CONCERT: SEPTEMBER 20, 2007 (article first published : 2007-09-22)

Two Russians and an Armenian provided the “fiery virtuosity” of this performance by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City Hall, to quote the description given on the programme by the orchestra’s office. Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Aram Khachaturian (the latter not a Russian but an Armenian) provided the fireworks.

Much of the glitter was provided by the visiting French violinist Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabedian in Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor. Khachaturian is a vivid, spectacular kind of composer and his music certainly has popular appeal, particularly when it is as well played as this concerto was.

Jean-Marc is, I would guess, in his late thirties, a tall, spare figure dressed entirely in black, with a serious demeanour and a massive violin technique. He is a specialist on Khachaturian and other Armenian music, having recorded several of the composers from this country (which is south of Russia, next door to Turkey). Playing from a score, he negotiated the difficulties of the concerto with a poised, unhurried calm.

He showed clear articulation in the rapid passages and produced a beautiful, full tone in the lyrical interludes, particularly in the slow movement, which bears an odd resemblance to Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, written about fifty years before this concerto was composed in 1940. And he showed great vitality in the final movement, in which the gypsies come to the party. Ensemble with the orchestra, under the direction of the French conductor Francois-Xavier Roth, was excellent, especially in a mysterious section of the slow movement in which the violin sounds softly above the hushed orchestral part. Francois-Xavier Roth, who has conducted here before, obtains maximum effect with minimum gesticulation. He conducts without a baton and relies on eloquent hand movements rather than histrionic arm-waving. The orchestra responded admirably.

Acknowledging enthusiastic applause, the violinist gave a lengthy encore, a piece by the French composer Jean Martinon with some flowing lines that provided a showcase for his lovely cantabile tone.

The concert opened with a rousing account of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, very famous but not played here very often. No cannon but plenty of boom boom from the biggest drum in the orchestra’s armoury, played with zest by Dobri Paliev. And the evening concluded with Rachmaninov’s brilliantly orchestrated Symphonic Dances. - Michael Green




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