WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the second Early Spring Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018 Word Symphony Series
CONDUCTOR: PERI SO
SOLOIST: ALISSA MARGULIS (VIOLIN)
VENUE: DURBAN CITY HALL
DATE: THURSDAY 30 AUGUST 2018
One of the hallmarks of Parisian musical life in the 1860s was the role that political satire played on the city’s comic opera stages. This was never more in evidence than in the writing of Jacques Offenbach, whose prolific output of operas bouffes included hits such as La Vie Parisienne, La Belle Hélène, La Périchole and Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld), famed for its iconic can-can sequence.
If the composer’s lesser known L’ile de Tulipatan is not quite in the hall of fame league of the titles mentioned above, its sparkling Overture certainly makes for a delightfully off-beat piece of programming - as Thursday’s Durban City Hall audience discovered when visiting conductor Peri So introduced it as his opening item of the KZN Philharmonic’s second Spring season concert. The young Hong Kong born maestro brought out the perfect touch of insouciance in this delicious piece, which he clearly communicated with his players.
I confess to having been less receptive to the performance of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto - in which a sense of control was paramount throughout the ‘soft-focus’ performance by the acclaimed young German soloist Alissa Margulis. To my ears, she seemed to skim along the surface. Silken tone there was aplenty, but a sense of lagging momentum seemed to set in during the short second movement. And despite the fleet pace at which it was played, I waited in vain in the Finale for that sense of exhilarating abandon at the end, where the soloist must dig deep into the thrilling sequences of double stops, before soaring triumphantly in the final ecstatic leap of passion that crowns Mendelssohn’s last large-scale orchestral work. Judging by the enthusiasm of those around me, my reservations were a personal response.
At any rate, all was forgiven in the second half. A sense of contentment settled throughout the house as Mr Po, displaying an appropriate sense of gravitas, drew from his players a finely wrought account of Brahms’s wonderfully benign Symphony No 1. The muted sense of melancholy that pervades the opening movement was touchingly conveyed, as was the air of serene stillness in the second movement’s consolatory Andante sostenuto.
The glow of the Orchestra’s wind ensemble, exquisitely pointed from the principal Oboe and Clarinet desks respectively, was well to the fore, as was the luxuriantly textured playing of the strings, and indeed the richly focused contributions of brass and timpani sections throughout those lovely pages that abound in the work’s third movement, with its famous, Lutheran hymn-like melody, which must surely count among the most memorable Brahms ever penned. The grandeur of the great work’s closing pages, resplendently enacted in force, sent us home happy and replete. Thank you.