(Chris Duigan & Aristide du Plessis pic by William Charlton-Perkins)
KZN music lovers are currently the beneficiaries of a new spirit of collaboration between Durban’s Friends of Music (FOM) and Christopher Duigan’s Pietermaritzburg-based Music Revival associations. This welcome trend saw the latter offering up a combination of two of its recent programmes that have been performed across the province, telescoped into one, for the benefit of FOM’s audience at the Durban Jewish Centre on Tuesday 10 April.
Performing something of a double bill, pianist Duigan shared the stage with cellist Aristide du Plessis in the first half of the evening. With both instrumentalists presented as equal partners, this showcased the emotive vocality of the cello as a solo instrument, with a selection of items built around Rachmaninoff’s towering Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor Opus 19.
An ‘easy lift-off’ was effected as the two musicians played an engaging coupling of Ave Maria settings by Caccini and Piazzolla. Du Plessis then stepped up to the microphone to introduce the Rachmaninoff masterwork. He highlighted the impact the work left on him as a nascent soloist, when as a young teenager, he heard the great Russian cellist Alexander Ivashkin play it at a FOM recital 13 years ago. The experience of being privy to Ivashkin’s account of the work is best encapsulated in Du Plessis’s own words, as recounted in an interview he gave me a while back: “He had the most beautiful, enormous tone which just made the hall spin. I was very moved, even as a child, by how every movement of the work had so many beautiful melodies, and of all different types - pensive, profound, heroic, tragic, desperate, romantic, and joyous. Every emotion and feeling is in this piece, especially the third movement.”
Dedicating his own performance of the work, that heart-rending third movement in particular, to the late Russian maestro, made listening to Du Plessis’s own sublime rendering of it especially poignant. I can only say my admiration for this young artist-in-our-midst continues to grow with every hearing of his thriving young maturity I am privileged to witness on our concert stages. His breath-taking virtuosity in Tchaikovsky’s show-piece, Pezzo Capricioso, brought the first half of the evening to a close with a welcome emotional reprieve.
Having more than held his own in dispatching the very considerable demands, both emotional and technical, that are embedded in the piano part of the Rachmaninoff work, the indefatigable Duigan proceeded to astonish his audience with a further display of virtuosity – both his own as a performer, and that of the endlessly fecund – but, to my ears, essentially cerebral – facility of George Gershwin. We were treated to superfine performances of the American composer’s widely-contrasting Three Preludes, followed by exquisitely played accounts of the composer’s own transcriptions, contained in the spun out Gershwin Song Book. Then onto the well-tried Rhapsody in Blue, rendered in its barnstorming solo piano edition. If the pianist wasn’t ‘wrung dry’ after delivering such an onerous programme, this listener certainly was as its recipient. What a feat!
Mention must be made of the evening’s remarkable young Prelude performer, the gifted bass singer, Ruben Mbonambi. With a velvet-textured vocal instrument of rare and authentic tonal depth and colour, he delighted his audience with a beautifully phrased performance of Sarastro’s great aria, ‘ Isis und Osiris’ from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and a deliciously knowing account of Don Basilio’s scurrilous aria, ‘La Calunia’ from Rossini’s Barber of Seville. This amazing young man was accompanied by Bobby Mills.
Ruben Mbonambi (Bass) pic by William Charlton-Perkins