Superb salute to Beethoven


WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the third Summer Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orcestra’s 2018 Word Symphony Series






Twenty years ago, Arjan Tien (pictured above), a fledgling conductor from The Netherlands, made his South African debut with KZN Philharmonic in Durban. He was standing in at short notice for an indisposed senior colleague. Reviewing that event, my opening line, in response to the spirit of renewed energy and commitment from the orchestral players under his baton, was an unequivocal ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’


Now an immensely evolved musician, Mr Tien brings many years of expertise to bear, having worked with orchestras all over the world. His return to the KZNPO concert platform on Thursday, for the first of this season’s closing two concerts, drew a warm response from the house that was richly deserved, as he imparted his profoundly informed knowledge of stylistic performance practice appropriate to the early Viennese school of the high Classical and early Romantic periods.


Beethoven’s ubiquitous Violin Concerto in D Major is a notoriously elusive piece - when performed by unsuspecting soloists seeking to score points in the concert circuit’s virtuoso stakes. This pitfall did not pertain to the evening’s soloist. The prize-winning German violinist Daniel Röhn (pictured below) has earned his laurels performing the concerto to wide acclaim. His teaming with Maestro Tien and his players resulted in a richly nuanced rendering that glowed with a rising emotional pull, right from the first movement’s famous opening bar.


Those four suspenseful timpani beats gave way magically to the elegiac orchestral strains that usher in towering tutti passages and lyrical interludes, leaving nothing to be desired as the soloist made his sweet-toned entrance. Röhn went on to exhibit phrasing of arching finesse and a sure-fire sense of line for which he is renowned, dispatching playing of sinuous beauty. It was fascinating to encounter his preference for the seldom-heard Joachim cadenza which replaced of the shorter and more familiar Kreisler one.


In the hands of the evening’s conductor, soloist and orchestral players alike, the heart-stopping second movement morphed seamlessly through its grand swells and tender lulls into the rigour and exhilaration of the closing movement’s Rondo Allegro. Röhn’s wizardry in the work’s joyous finale was sublime.


Tien’s historically appropriate 19th century configuration of the orchestra’s string sections paid spectacular dividends in his mighty rendition of the Eroica Symphony, with the first and second violins facing each other, flanked by double basses at either end of the stage, and the cellos and violas centre-stage, providing a revelatory and deeply sonorous sound spectrum.


How to do justice to Tien’s impassioned reading of this mighty work? Suffice it to say he drew from his players a performance that teamed with a life-force of one’s dreams, speaking throughout of the triumphs, despair and resolve that are compounded in the heroism Beethoven envisaged.  Seldom if ever has this concert-goer heard the grief-laden dirge in the second movement more movingly enacted, while the inexorable delivery of the great fugue in the fourth movement - one of the miracles of Western music - was astounding.


A performance of a lifetime.



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