A mixed bag of French classics

WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the second Summer Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018 World Symphony Series.







Canadian-Caribbean conductor Kwamé Ryan (Pictured below) returned to the KZPO’S podium with a programme of French classics, some of fleeting appeal, others more substantial. Exuding an air of joie de vivre, the evening opened on a sprightly note with the Overture to Gabriel Fauré’s charming Masques et Bergamasques Suite, an early 20th century tribute to the world of the 18th century fêtes galantes.


The playful mood was sustained in the next item, with a performance of the Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in D Major by Cecile Chaminade (1857 – 1944). Whether the inclusion of this rarely heard piece was a timeous token of solidarity with the current spirit of activism promoting the stakes of women in global society is a moot point. Certainly the engaging one-movement work, with its quick-silver orchestral writing and its filigree solo passages, deserved the warm reception it got, as dispatched by flautist Liesl Stoltz and her KZNPO colleagues.


Claude Debussy’s mesmerizing Prelude a L’apres-midi d’un faune, likewise, received an idiomatic performance under maestro Ryan’s baton as a fitting nod to the composer’s centenary this year. The shimmering haze of the faun’s fantasy was palpably dreamlike in this groundbreaking composition, inspired by the poem of the same title by Stéphane Mallarmé.


Liesl Stoltz (Pictured above) is rightfully regarded as one of South Africa’s finest soloists. Sadly, while Bizet’s Carmen has spawned several successful orchestral evocations of its hardcore passions, François Borne’s Fantaisie brillante, based on themes from the world’s most famous opera, isn’t one of them.  If the piece has a certain allure for a solo flautist, it didn’t work for this listener (although, in fairness, it must be said those around me were wowed by Miss Stoltz’s dizzying flights). The inherent qualities of the flute’s pure tones and wispy bedazzlements work against the attempt to essay the steamy passions of the gypsy girl’s sultry Habanera - and other extracts from Bizet’s masterpiece. An improbable match if ever there was.


César Franck’s Symphony in D minor that followed after intermission was another matter entirely. Maestro Ryan and his players delivered an idiosyncratic performance of this challenging work. The performance came close to tonal overload in the opening movement’s first climax, then pulled back seamlessly into a lovely pizzicato interlude, before the oboe took up its serene melody, sharing it among the winds and propelling the strings into billowing motion.  The dreamlike quality of the gently flowing Second Movement Allegretto was almost filmic in Ryan’s adept execution, creating an effective platform for the high voltage finale to make its full impact.  A memorable close to the evening.




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