Concert Review: Transcendent Brahms

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

 

Conductor: Brandon Phillips

Soloist: Alexander Buzlov (Cello)

Venue: Playhouse Opera

Date: Thursday 14 June

 

 Conductor Brandon Phillips

 

Thursday’s second concert of the KZN Philharmonic’s winter season marked two notable debut guest appearances. The award-winning young Cape Town conductor Brandon Phillips made his bow with a programme which pleasingly included some off-the-beaten-track repertoire, as a departure from the usual concert staples.

 

Schumann’s brooding Genoveva Overture proved a substantial curtain-raiser, its richly symphonic writing proclaiming the German composer’s marked affinity for the concert hall as opposed to the opera house. If its opening bars were briefly marred by a touch of impure intonation from the orchestra’s first violins, happily this settled as the work got under way. Phillips’s steady baton effectively guided the piece’s slow, pensive take-off along its dramatic course, highlighting passages such as Schumann’s enchanting deployment of the French horns to evoke the hunt, before reaching a triumphant, heraldic climax.

 

The evening’s second debut saw Russia’s new-generation cello star Alexander Buzlov taking the spotlight. This engagement marked a highpoint in recent World Symphony Series events, which have chartered many of classical music’s most acclaimed celebrities since its inception 22 years ago.

 

Echoes of Spain resonated authentically throughout Buzlov’s spine-tingling performance of the declamatory Cello Concerto in D minor by Edouard Lalo, a clear indication of the work’s genetic affinity with its sibling, the composer’s more famous Symphonie Espagnole for Violin and Orchestra.

 

A pupil of the great Natalia Gutman, Buzlov is now one of the world’s frontline soloists. His formative years included close affiliations with a royal line of pedagogic giants such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Danil Shafran and Bernard Greenhouse. No mere name-dropping here: the remarkable young artist’s pedigree showed in every moment of his electrifying mastery of Lalo’s taxing work.

 

The Brahms symphonies are consistently self-renewing works, none more so  than his deeply satisfying F Major Third Symphony  which one can listen to forever without losing that magical sense of discovery experienced on first hearing.

 

Brandon Phillips’s finely nuanced rendering of this joyous masterwork touched home base at every juncture of its complex structure, his virile, expressive reading delivered with impressive control and a fine sense of balance in the many key passages during which members of the orchestra get to shine.

 

A stand-out moment was the lyrical playing emanating from the orchestra’s principal clarinet desk, dreamily leading the narrative forward like an integral spokesperson fully conversant with the emotive landscape around him.

 

Phillips and his players passed the supreme test of performing this magical work, by bringing their audience safely home in the breathtaking final bars with a sense of wonder that hung in the air for suspended seconds after the last fading decibels had died away.  Brahms at his most transcendent.

 

 Cellist Alexander Buzlov

 

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