WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the fourth and final Summer Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orcestra’s 2018 Word Symphony Series
CONDUCTOR: ARJAN TIEN
SOLOISTS: MAX BAILLIE (VIOLIN), ALEXANDER BAILLIE (CELLO)
VENUE: PLAYHOUSE OPERA
DATE: THURSDAY 15 MARCH
Conductor Arjan Tien brought the KZN Philharmonic’s 2018 Summer Season to a close with a dynamic programme of three contrasting masterworks. A dark-hued and sinisterly foreboding performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture superbly set the scene on Thursday evening in the Playhouse Opera, before father-and-son duo, Max Baillie (violin) and Alexander Baillie (cello) took the stage to perform Brahms’s A minor Double Concerto.
The introspective nature and finely nuanced characteristics of this great work, the composer’s final orchestral composition, offer a deeply rewarding experience for listeners privileged to be privy to its many subtleties. Despite his proverbial anxiety in writing for two instruments he himself did not play, Brahms brought a lifetime’s experience to this score with which he crowned his orchestral oeuvre. He offered it as a peace-making token to his erstwhile friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim, who first performed it in 1887 with his colleague, the cellist Robert Hausmann, the composer himself on the podium.
Never once, listening to the concerto, does one get a sense of the soloists striving to make themselves heard, such is the composer’s masterly control of dynamic ebb and flow while marshalling his orchestral forces in their interplay with the solo duo – a feat all the more remarkable considering the work’s pedigree as a carry-over of the classical Sinfonia Concertante genre, in which the writing for solo instruments was closely enmeshed within the music’s orchestral fabric.
Clearly, both the evening’s engaging soloists relished this piece, as they shared their mastery of it with their colleagues under Maestro Tien’s lithe baton. Alexander Baillie’s benign affection for Brahms and his mellow musical milieu was palpable as he treated his audience to the delight of his big, burnished sound. His interplay with his son’s sweet-toned, at times nervously-jagged, violin was electric, as they engaged in musical discourse that was alternately rigorous and gentle. Richly rewarding music-making at its finest.
Sibelius’s Second Symphony concluded the evening’s musical fare. Mastering the epigrammatic exigencies of this much-loved work, which marks the end of the great Finnish master’s early Romantic period, is a feat in itself for any conductor. Maestro Tien triumphed with a magisterial performance that teamed with stand-out moments too numerous to single out.
Exercising a powerful architectural grip over the challenging work’s constantly shifting terrain, riding its far-flung sound scapes, its sudden mood swings and its massive sonic gestures, the conductor paced himself and his players to take on the ultimate ascent of the great climactic finale, for which the symphony is famed. This had the entire orchestra ablaze in a splendour of sound.
What an end to the season.
CAPTIONS: (Top) Father-and-son duo, Alexander Baillie (cello) and Max Baillie (violin), memorably captured the genius of Brahms in their collaboration with the KZNPO and (bottom) Arjan Tien - who closed the season with a towering reading of the Sibelius Symphony No 2