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KZNPO CONCERT: 25 OCTOBER 2007 (article first published : 2007-10-29)

A little Mendelssohn, a premium Mozart concerto and a grand Sibelius symphony made up the programme for this concert given by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in the Durban City hall, under the direction of the visiting English conductor Nicholas Cleobury.

It opened with a lively account of the rather rarely performed Ruy Blas Overture written by Mendelssohn in 1839 as a prelude to Victor Hugoís play of that name.

The 31-year-old French pianist Ali Hireche joined the orchestra in Mozartís Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major. Mozart was the prince of concerto writers --- he wrote 27 for the piano and others for the violin, horn, clarinet, bassoon, flute, oboe, harp --- and this G major work is one of his finest, graceful, relaxed, jolly at times, but with that ambiguity so typical of Mozart, the occasional hint of sadness behind the gentle smile.

It is a wonderful and subtle work, and I liked Ali Hirecheís controlled approach. He has a quiet keyboard demeanour, and his playing was carefully judged. The work was indeed a refreshing change from some of the more popular thumping war horses of the concerto repertory. Soloist and orchestra seemed briefly at variance in the final movement, but the performance as a whole gave great pleasure to the audience.

In response to enthusiastic applause Ali Hireche gave an encore which enabled him to display, brilliantly, his virtuoso abilities: Chopinís Study in C major, Op. 10, No 1.

Sibeliusís Symphony No 5 in E flat major was given a resounding performance. Nicholas Cleobury is a fairly restrained, undemonstrative kind of conductor, but he obtained full value from the big sound of Sibelius.

This symphony is majestic, fundamental, stark; one commentator has said that it celebrates the force of life itself. Anchored by some fine playing from the brass instruments --- five horns, three trombones and three trumpets --- the orchestra gave a gripping account of the symphony, from the opening horn call to the final six widely spaced, explosive chords. - Michael Green




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