WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS reviews the third Spring Season concert of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018 Word Symphony Series.
CONDUCTOR: YASUO SHINOZAKI
SOLOIST: ROBERT PICKUP (CLARINET)
VENUE: DURBAN CITY HALL
DATE: THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER
It was great to experience the compact energy of Yasuo Shinozaki back on the KZNPO podium for Thursday’s penultimate concert of the Orchestra’s 2018 season. The Japanese maestro pulled out the stops to deliver a cracker of a concert with his players on top form throughout the evening.
Mendelssohn wrote his 1833 concert overture Fair Melusina as a birthday gift for his beloved sister Fanny. Loosely illustrative of the legend of Melusina, a water-nymph who marries a Count and lives with him before returning to her watery milieu when he breaks a pact, this evocative but rarely heard piece made an enchanting curtain raiser, introduced by its miasma of quietly swirling winds and strings, giving way intermittently to more rigorous writing for full orchestra, then punctuated by the recurrence of the murmuring opening theme, which highlighted in particular the ravishing playing of the orchestra’s nonpareil of a first clarinet, Junnan Sun, as the work resolved itself into gentle repose.
The serenity of Samuel Barber’s hypnotically haunting Adagio for Strings, perhaps the 20th Century American composer’s most iconic creation, offered an interlude of beautifully honed quiet for the orchestra’s string players to shine. And shine they did, as the exchange of material passed from the celli to the first violins, then spread throughout the entire section to end in a magical interlude that hung in the air as the audience held its breath in suspended silence for seconds on end.
South African-born virtuoso, Robert Pickup, Principal Clarinetist of the Philharmonia Zurich Orchestra, took the spotlight as the evening’s soloist in one of the repertoire’s most thrilling showpieces - Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No 1 in F minor. This magnificently operatic the work was written for Weber’s clarinet muse, Heinrich Bärmann, prince of early 19th century clarinetists, renowned for his exceptional technique and beautiful sound. Small wonder it is embraced by clarinet virtuosi to this day. Pickup certainly did it proud. His sumptuously gleaming tone and relaxed legato line in the work’s middle movement, were gorgeously enhanced by the French horn trio that stepped forward to accompany him, while his puckish, almost laid back command of the bravura writing in the outer movements providing visceral thrills aplenty.
The programme climaxed with another inspired work - Robert Schumann’s ‘Spring Symphony’, the German Romantic composer’s first symphonic foray, written in 1841 as an utterance of the overflowing love he felt for his newly wed spouse, the renowned concert pianist, Clara Wieck. Pacing himself and his players throughout the life affirming journey of this four movement work, with its exultant celebration of spring, Shinozaki and his players’ surefooted ascent to its blazing conclusion provoked a storm of applause for what was a highpoint of the 2018 World Symphony Series.