WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the third Early Spring Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018 Word Symphony Series
Conductor: Daniel Raiskin
Soloists: Vitaly Pisarenko (Piano) Avuya Ngcaweni (Soprano), Siphokazi Maphumulu (Soprano), Sizakele Masuku (Alto), Wayne Mkhize (Tenor), Andile Dlamini (Bass)
Choir: Clermont Community Choir
Venue: Durban City Hall
Date: Thursday 6 August 2018
Durban’s music community has been reeling under the shock of the recent death of Simon Milliken. Thursday’s penultimate concert of the KZNPO’s Early Spring Season was dedicated to the memory of the much loved British musician, who for many years was the Orchestra’s Principal Double Bass player. Before the programme started, Russian conductor Daniel Raiskin led a moving account of Elgar’s Nimrod in tribute to Milliken, ending the piece with a profound interlude of silence.
Don Juan, Richard Strauss’s sumptuous early symphonic tone poem, opened the bill. The Orchestra played their hearts out for their lost colleague in this music by his favourite composer. It seems invidious to highlight stand-out moments. But mention must be made of the gossamer-fine rendering by Acting Concertmaster Violeta Osorhean of her exquisite little violin solo. And too, the exultant unleashing of the soaring French horns, a typical feature of Strauss in his most exuberant moments. In all, this was music-making from the whole orchestra to set the pulses racing.
The first half of the evening concluded with a performance of Liszt’s episodic Piano Concerto No 2, whose hushed opening passage for winds, magically ushering in the soloist, always strikes one listening to this piece as a masterstroke of innovation by the great Hungarian master. Belying his diminutive physical stature, Vitaly Pisarenko dispatched an astounding display of virtuosity and tonal power, both in his solo interludes and in the dazzling interplay with the Orchestra throughout Liszt’s brilliant score, in which Boris Kerimov made time stand still in his cello solo.
Taking us on a trip down Bohemia’s great Moldau River, Smetana’s Vltava from Má Vlast opened the second half, underscoring as ever the marvelous work’s deserved standing as one of Western music’s most evocative pieces of descriptive writing.
The evening ended with an all-stops-out account of Warren Bessey’s recently-completed Symphonic Fantasy, Inkosazane Mkabayi. With its focus on the 19th Century Zulu historic figure of King Shaka’s formidable aunt, the Princess Mkabayi Kajama, dubbed ‘the King-Maker’, whose dramatic entrance into life foreshadowed not only the shape of her own destiny, but also that of the Zulu nation, this grandiosely-conceived work offered a grateful platform for the Clermont Community Choir and the line-up of soloists to show their musical paces to fine effect.
Their and their orchestral partners’ whole-hearted account of the score only partially disguised the derivative nature of the piece’s easy-listening musical content – which, to my ears, suggested a reach-out to the big-moment sound worlds of Puccini’s Turandot, Orff’s Carmina Burana, even Andrew Lloyd Webber, given a colourfully orchestrated Afro make-over.
My response to this premiere performance seems to have been a lone one. The house shouted its approbation at its conclusion.