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QUINT AND DU TOIT FOR FOM (article first published : 2007-11-14)

Good news travels fast. The Russian-born American violinist Philippe Quint scored a triumph with Tchaikovsky’s concerto at the KZNPO symphony concert in Durban12 days ago. A short-notice recital was arranged by Dr Vera Dubin of the Friends of Music and an exceptionally large audience, about 200 people, turned up at the Durban Jewish Centre to hear the young maestro. Many of them were people who are seldom seen at Friends of Music concerts.

Partnered by the excellent South African pianist Francois du Toit, the violinist gave another impressive display of his technical and interpretative skills. He produces a big, brilliant tone from his 1723 Stradivarius violin and he has a big, confident stage personality to match it, with an agreeably flamboyant touch of the showman. He left his native Russia to study and settle in the United States and he is now, at the age of about 30, a glittering star among performers of classical music. He has long years ahead and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him.

The first half of his Friends of Music programme was for the very serious listener. He opened with a sonata by the eighteenth century French composer Jean-Marie Leclair, played with style and élan. The music was attractive, lyrical, brilliant, and not much different from dozens of other pieces from this period.

We then took a long stride into the twentieth century with the Kleine Suite by Miklos Rozsa, a Hungarian composer who emigrated to the United States and died in 1995 at the age of 88. He was a prolific composer who combined two contrasting careers, as a writer of rather advanced orchestral and chamber music and as a writer of musical soundtracks for films such as Ben Hur, Lust for Life and Knights of the Round Table.

The Kleine Suite is a set of pieces based on Hungarian folk music, difficult to play and not really easy on the ear. It brought forth some vividly forceful playing from the violinist and the pianist. It should be mentioned that Francois du Toit contributed substantially to the success of this recital.

Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in D major is another work that is difficult for performer and listener. The quality of Philippe Quint’s playing, virtuoso technique and a lovely singing tone in the more lyrical passages, made it easier for the listeners to absorb the dissonant complexities of Prokofiev’s score.

After the acerbities of the twentieth century, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5 in F major, the Spring Sonata, must have come as a relief to the audience. Lovely tone here, and in Ravel’s gypsy-flavoured Tzigane. And by way of lighter relief, the violinist played encores by Fritz Kreisler and Scott Joplin.

A fascinating recital but was it the right programme for an audience that must have been puzzled by much of the first half? Durban music-lovers are not, generally speaking, academics and rarefied cognoscenti. The violin repertory is huge and I suspect that a programme of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms would have been much more to their taste.

The evening’s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was the 23-year-old baritone Bulelani Madikizela who has been selected to enter the International Voice Academy in Cardiff. Accompanied by David Smith, he displayed a powerful and accurate voice in arias by Tchaikovsky and Verdi. A bit too much vibrato, though. - Michael Green




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