WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the second Spring Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018 Word Symphony Series.
Conductor: Justus Frantz
Soloists: Dina Ivanova (Piano); Linda Nteleza (Soprano); Abongile Fumba (Mezzo-Soprano); Wayne Mkhize (Tenor); Andile Dlamini (Bass)
Choir: Sounds of Joy
Venue: Durban City Hall
Date: Thursday 8 November
Soprano Linda Nteleza
Making a seasonal return to the podium for the second concert of the KZN Philharmonic’s 2018 Spring Season, German conductor Justus Frantz devoted the bulk of the evening’s programme to a celebration Mozart, focusing on the early flowering of the 18th century Austrian composer’s genius. The Overture to the opera seria Lucio Silla served as the evening’s curtain-raiser. Commissioned when Mozart was a mere sixteen years of age, the work was first acclaimed in 1772 at the Teatro Regio Ducal in Milan with the composer conducting.
Here, if this fleet-footed rococo piece sounded somewhat overloaded due to the large body of players assigned to its performance, it was further impeded by the conductor’s flaccid presence on the podium. This resulted in a lackluster reading of the work - disappointing in the light of the repertoire credentials of Mr Frantz - that was rescued by the unstinting level of professionalism of the ever-reliable KZN Philharmonic players.
Alfred Einstein, the great Mozart scholar, famously hailed the evening’s centrepiece, the Piano Concerto K 271, as ‘the first outbreak of genius’ among Mozart’s 24 masterpieces created for piano and orchestra. With its abundance of inspired confidence and revolutionary flouting of conventions, such as a formal orchestral introduction to usher in the soloist, the work might have offered a superb debut vehicle to introduce the award-winning young Russian virtuoso, Dina Ivanova to the KZN Philharmonic’s audience.
Sadly this proved otherwise - due partly, I suspect, to a palpable mismatch between the soloist and the evening’s off-form conductor. A prosaically dispatched first movement gave way to an emotionally undercharged account of the work’s usually heart-rending minor key Andantino. This was followed by a rhythmically unstable finale, where the pianist’s limpid, pearly tone (lovely in itself) was undermined by a propensity for rushing her fences with blurred articulation. Ivanova sounded as if, skimming along the surface, she was dashing to catch a runaway train. Here again, the Orchestra itself carried the day.
Adding a patriotic element to the evening’s music-making, Bongani Ndodana-Breen’s Ma Sisulu Sinfonia served as a centennial salute to struggle heroine Albertina Sisulu, the work, according to a programme note by the composer, drawing from the quiet strength and resilience of the revered matriarch. This premiere performance certainly provided plenty of scope for the orchestra to flex its muscles in essaying the highly colourful, densely orchestrated score.
Concluding the programme, Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Mass in C Major K317 offered a platform for the evening’s vocalists to shine. And thankfully they did, with stand-out performances from lyric tenor Wayne Mkhize, and from soprano Linda Nteleza, who gave a touching presentation of the work’s glorious Agnus Dei. From a choral point of view, this overtly operatic Missa brevis, with its wealth of melodic writing, received a wholehearted, if not ideally nuanced, performance from Sounds of Joy – who are celebrating their 15th anniversary this year.
Pianist Dina Ivanova