Concert review: Genius Sibelius

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

Conductor: Conrad van Alphen

Soloist: Nikita Boriso-Glebsky (violin)

Venue: Playhouse Opera

Date: Thursday 21 June


Nikita Boriso-Glebsky


Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor must surely count as one of the most daunting works a virtuoso violinist could wish to master. This has not stopped generations of frontline fiddlers pitting themselves against its formidable challenges ever since the great Czech violinist Karel Halir played it at the official 1905 Berlin premiere, under the baton of no less a luminary than Richard Strauss. Today’s recording catalogues, not to mention YouTube, boast countless renderings of the work, suggesting its magnetic pull has much in common with that of Everest for mountaineers.


Thursday’s penultimate KZN Philharmonic Winter Season concert afforded the audience an up-close encounter with the work in all its visceral glory, as Russia’s man-of-the-moment, violinist Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, dished out its wow factor in dollops.


The piece is symphonic in scope, the solo violin and orchestra allotted equal voices. Adroitly partnered by Conrad van Alphen on the podium, Boriso-Glebsky’s supreme command of the score was paramount, holding one spellbound as he unleashed its extended first movement cadenza with palpable relish.


Much of the orchestral writing is subtly dark-hued, with idiosyncratic elements such as the ominously muted ‘pagan’ drum beats that punctuate its pages (finely realised here by the orchestra’s timpanist, Stephane Pechoux). Torrents of fireworks dispatched by the soloist were juxtaposed with writing of untold tenderness. The latter characteristic was given full voice in the sublimely beautiful second movement, Boriso-Glebsky’s celebrated velvet tone in shimmering evidence, before Sibelius’s ingenious linking passage plunged one into the ferocious extremes of the third movement, the soloist and his orchestral colleagues bringing the house to its feet in a torrent of applause as the work’s cataclysmic finale ended.


Superbly framing this singular concert show-stopper were two staple works that are clearly signature pieces in Maestro van Alphen’s repertoire - Mendelssohn’s enchanting A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, and Dvorák’s richly pastoral Symphony No. 5 in F Major. As ever, both well-loved works offered wonderful opportunities for the KZN Philharmonic players to show their paces to dazzling effect.


The memory of this concert may well be one to cherish in these uncertain times faced by our performing arts fraternity. The event underlined yet again what a priceless resource the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra is to the people of South Africa.


Conrad van Alphen - Photo by Jan Hordijk

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