A night to remember

WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the opening Late Spring Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal’s 2017 Word Symphony Series

CONDUCTOR: LYKELE TEMMINGH

SOLOIST: ZUILL BAILEY (CELLO)

VENUE: DURBAN CITY HALL

DATE: THURSDAY 19 OCTOBER

 

 

Concert goers who thronged the Durban City Hall to near capacity for the opening concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s late Spring Season on Thursday (19 October) were treated to a grand night out. Appropriately, this World Symphony Series event, which marked the 30th anniversary of conductor Lykele Temmingh’s first appearance on the KNPO podium, proved a stellar affair from first to last. It opened with a cracking account of Reznicek’s Donna Diana Overture.

 

A favourite curtain-raiser of the orchestra’s founder, Dr David Tidboald, for many years Temmingh’s mentor, it is geared to set pulses racing. I like to think the overture’s presence on the programme was in honour of Dr Tidboald.

 

Expectations ran high when it came to the evening’s soloist, the Grammy Award winning American cellist, Zuill Bailey. These were more than fulfilled by the distinguished soloist’s thrilling, nuanced performance of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. One of the concert repertoire’s most passionate and challenging show-pieces for a virtuoso cellist, it stands as an extraordinary evocation of the biographical elements that were at play in the composer’s life at the time of its composition towards the end of his sojourn in America. This was a time when increasingly he yearned to return to his beloved homeland, a longing intensified by news of the illness and subsequent death of his one-time love, Josefina Kaunitzova.

 

Following the high drama of the first movement, in which the soloist’s valiant presence is offset by the great Czech composer’s masterly command of his orchestral forces, the work becomes shot through with nostalgia and emotional depth in its elegiac second movement Andante. The searing beauty of Bailley’s performance was tenderly matched by the consolation of the winds, luminously caressed here by the orchestra’s principal clarinettist, Junnan Sun. A heart stopping moment, this was dispelled by the buoyancy of work’s famous finale, which ultimately gave way to the soloist’s melancholy, before the orchestra’s exhilaratingly upbeat final tutte brought the work to resounding close.

 

Despite the Durban City Hall’s long-defunct pipe organ remaining merely a scandalously silent backdrop to the concert stage of South Africa’s largest and most magnificent acoustic venue, Temmingh ingeniously brought his programme to a climax after intermission, with a work long absent from our local repertoire - Camille Saint-Saëns’s splendid Symphony no 3 in C minor - popularly known as his Organ Symphony, as two of its four sections feature interpolations by a grand scale pipe organ.

 

This was accomplished by compromising, and deploying an Allen digital organ console, played by Durban’s leading organist, Dr Christopher Cockburn. If the solution did not fully compensate for the lack of the real thing, it nonetheless offered many moments worth treasuring.

 

The grand old man of late French romanticism, Saint-Saëns regarded this work as the summation of his career. He created a lavish score that abounds with thrilling sonic effects, ranging from shimmering seas of strings and winds, glistening across distant horizons, to towering sonic utterances by massive brass and timpani, not to mention the celebrated organ interpolations themselves.

 

The whole experience is a crowd pleaser par excellence, delivered by an extravagant complement of orchestra musicians including extra players in all its sections, as well parts for two pianists in duet at a concert grand, played here to dazzling effect by Andrew Warburton and Liezl-Maret Jacobs.

 

The KZN Philharmonic, to a man and woman, did the event and their audience proud. It was heartening to see and hear the musicians playing their hearts out in support of Maestro Temmingh who, honouring the composer and the work he adores, gave it his all.

 

Bravi to all concerned.

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