2 December - KZN Rising Stars

A large audience composed mainly of family and friends attended this final concert of the year of the Friends of Music.

The annual KZN Rising Stars presentation has become a Christmas tradition. This one featured 20 young performers, aged 15 to 18, in a varied programme for singers and for instrumentalists playing the piano, flute, recorder and saxophone.

All the players and singers are still at school --- learners, to use the current jargon --- and it would be unfair and unkind to subject their efforts to a keen critical scrutiny. Suffice it to say that there was plenty of talent on display. The choice of items for performance was in some cases too ambitious, involving works that were well beyond the technical and interpretative capabilities of these youngsters.

But there was much to give pleasure in a programme ranging from Handel and Bach (the later played on a saxophone!) to the Andrews Sisters (haven?t heard from them for a long time), and it was all much to the taste of the audience.

The printed programme included a list of 43 previous ?rising stars?, and a glance through it suggested that very few have risen to anything like stardom. No matter, the important thing is to propagate among the young the love and practice of good music, and this the South African Society of Music Teachers, co-sponsors of this concert, are obviously doing. More power to their collective elbow.   

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)

4 November - Moritzburg Festival Trio

There was a gratifyingly large audience for this chamber concert at the Durban Jewish Centre. And many of the faces were unfamiliar, which is also gratifying. We need strong attendances and new blood if good music is to survive and flourish in Durban.

The concert itself was excellent. The Moritzburg Festival Trio consists of two German players, Peter Bruns (cello) and Kai Vogler (violin), and a South African, Ben Schoeman (piano). All three are top-class performers. As important, they have a superb understanding of the co-operative needs of chamber music, each playing in sympathy with the others.

The result was music-making of rare quality. The admirable choice of programme also helped. No fancy novelties here, just three well-known and much admired works from Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms

They opened with Beethoven`s Trio in D major, Op. 70, No 1, often called the `Ghost Trio`, this because of its gloomy and mysterious slow movement. It is a fine and memorable work, written in 1808 and showing not the slightest loss in value over the passing of two centuries.

Here, as elsewhere in the concert, it was the cellist Peter Bruns who caught the eye and the ear. He has rather a flamboyant manner but he produces a golden tone from a 1730 cello that was once owned by Pablo Casals. Peter Bruns, who has a big reputation in Europe and America, is a player of high distinction, both in the rapid virtuoso passages and in the more lyrical phrases which one associates with the cello.

Some mellifluous Mendelssohn followed: the Trio in D minor, Op. 49. This is a lovely work and it brought forth lovely playing. The pianist, Ben Schoeman, came into his own, espressivo, in the graceful and delicate melodies of the slow movement.

Finally we were given Brahms`s Trio in B major, Op 8, and here the violinist, Kai Vogler, displayed a clear, sweet, penetrating tone. This is an interesting early work by Brahms, starting with slow, dignified chords on the piano and then a slow-breathing, long melody from the strings. The balance between violin and cello was superb as they sang in harmony. Incidentally, Kai Vogler plays a Stradivarius made in 1728.

At the end the audience responded with prolonged applause.
Fashion note: the three performers were all dressed in black shirts and black trousers, a pleasantly formal uniform.

The evening`s prelude performer was Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell of Durban, who at the age of 15 is a seasoned professional, having performed with orchestras as a soloist since she was nine.

She gave a poised and polished performance of the first movement of Beethoven`s sonata for violin and piano in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2. The pianist is an equal partner, not an accompanist, in these Beethoven sonatas, and Liezel-Maret Jacobs showed strong skills at the keyboard, playing with dexterity and insight.

They also played an uncharacteristically calm piece by Paganini called Cantabile, in a singing style. All very good and in keeping with the high standard of the evening.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


7 October - Chun Wang - pianist (China)

Chopin`s 24 Etudes (studies), Op. 10 and Op. 25, are among the most challenging pieces in the entire piano literature. As their title implies, they are very difficult to play, but they are also works of art, covering a wide range of moods and emotions and always adorned with Chopin`s gift for lyrical melody.

It was therefore quite a bold decision for Chun Wang, an 18-year-old pianist from China to include the twelve studies of Op. 25 in his recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The result was interesting and beguiling and in many way impressive. Chun Wang has the technical abilities to handle these virtuoso pieces. Bespectacled and of medium build, he looks a little older than his 18 years, he has a calm and unflamboyant demeanour at the keyboard and he was obviously in firm control throughout.

Nevertheless I felt that his emphasis was on the technical rather than the poetic quality of these works. His tone was sometimes rather hard, but in this respect I felt he might have been hindered by the limitations of the piano at his disposal. The big, extroverted items came off best, for example No. 11, the so-called `winter wind` etude and No. 12, with its sweeping rapid arpeggios.

A neatly shaped Mozart sonata, K. 333 in B flat, opened the programme, and after the interval the pianist produced more virtuoso fireworks with Ravel and Liszt.

An unusually large audience gave the pianist a warm reception and deservedly so. He is a player of great accomplishment and even greater promise, and no doubt he will go far in the wide world of international music-making.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

16 September - D. Rowland - violin (UK) & P. Jacobs - piano

Two outstanding performers made this an evening to remember. Daniel Rowland is a 36-year-old violinist who was born in London, grew up in the Netherlands, and has performed in many parts of the world. Pieter Jacobs comes from Pretoria and has established a reputation as one of the most accomplished of young South African pianists.

These two gifted player presented, at the Durban Jewish Centre, a programme of music well off the beaten track. They are both strong, confident instrumentalists, virtuosos who obviously enjoy the challenges before them. And in this respect they were equal partners, with Pieter Jacobs`s big keyboard technique commanding almost as much attention as Daniel Rowland`s wonderfully fluent violin.

Their opening number, Mozart`s two-movement Sonata in E minor, K. 304, was for me the most enjoyable music of the evening, a lovely, elegant but tense work. The E major episode in the minuet (the second movement) is as poignant as anything Mozart ever wrote, and it was beautifully played by these performers. Truly, music to bring a tear to the eye.

Richard Strauss`s Sonata in E flat Op 18 is a youthful work, dating from 1888, and an imposing one of concerto-like dimensions, looking forward in many ways to the later tone poems on which this composer`s reputation mainly rests. Again, the performance of this long and taxing work could hardly be faulted.

Karol Szymanowsky, a Pole, is, as Daniel Rowland observed in his informal commentary between musical items, an underrated composer. He died of tuberculosis in 1937 at the age of 54. His Fountain of Arethusa is a highly original, ethereal kind of piece inspired by the Greek myth about Arethusa, the nymph who was transformed into a spring.

It was good to hear unfamiliar music so expertly played, and the same could be said of Francis Poulenc`s Sonata, written in 1943. The music is typical of Poulenc: acerbic, abrasive passages alternating with snatches of sweet, sentimental music in the vein of French popular music. Most enjoyable.

Saint-Saens`s well-known Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso brought the recital to a glittering conclusion, with the violinist in particular displaying a full range of virtuoso heroics and earning an ovation from the audience.

The evening`s prelude performers, funded by the National Lottery, were two jazz players who did not look particularly young or disadvantaged. The trumpeter Daniel Sheldon has a Dip jazz degree, teaches jazz at the University of KwaZulu/Natal and is a band leader. The guitarist Gerald Sloan was described in the programme as `a giant name in local jazz and a legend in his own right`.

They played some attractive music in the ruminative and introspective manner of much modern jazz. It made an interesting change from promising child violinists.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)

23 July - (Wed P. Burdukova - cello (Russia) & K. Wisniewski - pianono

Two young women musicians. Polina Burdukova (cello) and Kerryn Wisniewski( piano), gave a rewarding recital when they appeared for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. In spite of their exotic names, both are South African, though Polina Burdukova was born in Russia and came here with her family when they emigrated to South Africa in 1991. Kerryn Wisniewski was born here

The repertory for cello and piano is not very large, but it contains much lovely music. These players presented a well-balanced programme consisting of two major works and two lesser known items.

Beethoven`s five cello sonatas are all fine works, and the last, the Sonata in D, Op.102 No. 2, written in 1815, is a good example of the master`s mature manner, difficult to play and not always easy to listen to, but full of bold ideas and rich subtlety. The two performers gave a convincing account of this concentrated music. Kerryn is a powerful and assertive pianist with an impressive technique and she was matched by Polina`s strong and confident cello playing.

Later in the programme the performers were able to demonstrate their grasp of form in another big work when they played Grieg`s Sonata in A minor, Op. 36, which must have come as something of a surprise to anybody in the audience who did not know the music. Grieg is one of the most underrated of composers.

A set of Variations on a theme by Rossini by the twentieth century Bohemian composer Bohuslav Martinu proved to be delightful. Martinu, who died in 1959 at the age of 69, wrote music that is accessible and attractive, as is well illustrated by these variations on a typically jaunty Rossini tune. The composition is easy on the ear, with enough dissonances to make it unmistakably `modern` but with a beguiling Bohemian tinge. And it was very well played.

A rarity, Chopin`s Introduction and Polonaise brillante, Op. 3, completed the programme. Chopin is so familiar as a piano composer that many people do not know that he wrote a very good sonata for cello and piano. Here was another work for this duo, written in 1829 when Chopin was 19. As with the much better known Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise, there is an expressive slow introduction followed by a brilliant Polish dance. Our performers played the work with sensitivity and élan. Enthusiastic applause brought forth an encore, a piece by Boccherini.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was Laura Osorhean, a young violinist. She played the first movement of a Bach concerto, an ambitious choice and one which the audience enjoyed.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)

24 June - Bryan Wallick - piano (USA)

This recital at the Durban Jewish Centre turned out to be a remarkable display of virtuoso piano playing. Bryan Wallick is a young American with an impressive concert record in America and Europe. He has a special interest in synesthesia, which is apparently the ability to experience two or more sensory experiences with one stimulus. He sees colours with each musical pitch and he has created a computer programme that projects images of his colour visions to the audience.

He didn`t need anything as exotic as that to fascinate his Durban audience. He let his fingers do the talking, and the colouring, and with memorable effect. He is a tall, lean, good-looking man, aged about 30 I would think; and in a programme that gave him ample opportunity to show his paces, so to speak, he extracted a big tone and exceptionally rapid figuration from the Friends of Music piano.

He opened with five sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, three of them played at high speed with an astonishing facility in repeated notes and crossing of hands. Brahms`s five-movement F minor Sonata, Op. 5, produced a performance of great power and resonance. At times I thought the tempi were too fast for comfort and clarity, but there was plenty of beautiful playing, especially in the final movement. And the pianist brought a sense of cohesion and shape to the work as a whole.

An example of authentic Americana, Samuel Barber`s Excursions, Op. 20, brought forth some of the most delightful playing of the entire evening. These four pieces depict various aspects and moods of American life, and the third in particular, a little set of variations, has a kind of enchantment which was admirably portrayed by the pianist.

Franz Liszt transcribed for the piano about 50 of Schubert`s songs but for some reason they are not often played nowadays in the concert hall. Bryan Wallick gave us two of the big ones, Gretchen am Spinnrade (Margaret at the spinning wheel) and Auf dem Wasser zu singen (to be sung on the water). The old master himself would have smiled approvingly at the keyboard skills displayed by this modern exponent of his music.

Finally, we had Liszt`s Fantasy on Themes from Mozart`s Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, a flamboyant showpiece which brought forth the ultimate in thunderous virtuosity from the pianist. `Too many notes`, the Austrian emperor once gently (and ignorantly) chided Mozart. Heaven knows what he would have said if he had heard this lot.

Durban audiences like a bit of prestissimo. Bryan Wallick earned a standing ovation, and in response he played an encore, Liszt`s gentle transcription of one of Schubert`s loveliest songs, Standchen (Serenade).

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was Yea Kyung Kim, yet another gifted young violinist of Eastern origins. This pupil at Durban Girls` College is 13 years old, and she showed poise and promise in two well-known pieces by Fritz Kreisler.       

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

3 June -Avigail Bushakovitz - violin (SA) & Ammiel Bushakovitz, piano

It seems only a short time ago that Avigail Bushakovitz was a promising young schoolgirl violinist from George, the winner of several youth music competitions. Now, at the age of 20, she is still a student, at the Juilliard School in New York, but she has matured into an astonishingly mature artist, technically and interpretatively. This was clear from the opening notes of Bach's Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, the first item on her programme for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. Her brother, 22-year-old Ammiel Bushakovitz, a music student in Pretoria, shared the platform with her at the piano, but the Bach Partita is for unaccompanied violin and as such it poses special problems for the performer.

It says much for Avigail's playing that for 15 minutes she kept her audience engrossed in the music. Technical difficulties were overcome with apparent ease, and she displayed an acute insight into the form and content of Bach's music.

Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46, written in 1880, is a big work for violin and orchestra. The arrangement of the orchestral part for the piano was, I thought, very good, and Ammiel Bushakovitz delivered it with skill and confidence. The violinist showed a full, sweet tone in this mainly lyrical work, which is sprinkled with old Scottish tunes, and her poised and undemonstrative stage presence added to the pleasure of the occasion.

After the interval came Paganini's Caprice No. 16, a very taxing virtuoso piece for solo violin but musically trivial; and, from the pianist, Chopin's well-known Ballade No. 1 in G minor. Ammiel has a highly developed technique but parts of this composition were played too fast. There is some evidence that Chopin himself did not admire speed merchants, and the detail of his music is too beautiful to be lost in a blur of rapid notes.

Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, first performed in 1944, was given an impressive performance. It is of course modern in idiom but it is reasonably accessible to the ordinary concert-goer. It is an adaptation of an earlier flute sonata by the same composer and it is a substantial work of strong contrasts.

Avigail played with authority and elegance, especially in the melodious slow movement, and Ammiel was at his best in the vigorous and quite flamboyant final movement. The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was Claudia Venter of Durban, aged about 19, a capable and promising flute player. Accompanied by Gerhard Geist at the piano, she played a typically interesting and whimsical flute sonata by the twentieth century French composer Francis Poulenc.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

27 May - Manhattan Piano Trio

Programme of mainly modern music was played with great skill and verve by the Manhattan Piano Trio, appearing at the Durban Jewish Centre for the Friends of Music. These are three young eastern European performers, on the piano, violin and cello, who now live in the United States and are associated with the Juilliard School of music in New York. They are Milana Strezeva (piano), Dmitry Lukin (violin) and Dmitry Kouzov (cello), and in a programme of music by Haydn, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Ravel they showed that they are all most accomplished players.

Haydn`s "Gypsy Rondo" Trio in G, Hob X:25, was given with great eloquence and style, with Dmitry Lukin in particular excelling on the violin in the first two movements. The final Hungarian gypsy music rondo was taken at breakneck speed. I know it is marked Presto, but I don`t think the composer intended it to be a blur of fast notes. Anyway, the audience were highly appreciative, as indeed they were throughout the programme.

Rachmaninov`s Trio Elegiaque in G minor was probably a novelty to most listeners. Written when the composer was 19, it is rather dense at times but has hints of the rich harmonies and surging melodies that were later to bring the composer fame and fortune

After referring to his distinction as a pianist, the programme note added: "As a composer he fared less well, certainly with the critics; his own compositions were considered totally irrelevant". Try telling that to the masses who have flocked to hear his second piano concerto over the past hundred years.

Two compositions by Shostakovich and Ravel`s fine 1914 Trio in A minor made up the rest of the programme. The Shostakovich Trio No. 1 in C minor, written in 1923 when the composer was an 18-year-old student, has some eloquent singing phrases for the stringed instruments and is not as abrasive as some of his later work, though it has its share of dissonances and spiky rhythms. An outstanding performance brought forth prolonged applause.

Shostakovich`s Jazz Suite No. 1 (better known in its orchestral form) just about brought the house down, the players revelling in its saucy and rather ironic version of jazz of the thirties. The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was the 20-year-old soprano Fae Evelyn, who is studying with Colleen Philp at the University of KZN. Accompanied by Andrew Warburton at the piano, she displayed a full, true voice that in quality, training and presentation was far ahead of the standard of most of the prelude performers at these concerts.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

6 May - Bryan Crumpler (clarinet) and Francois Du Toit (piano)

Bryan Crumpler is a 28-year-old American, an African American as it happens, who taught himself the clarinet as a child and has now built an international reputation as an exponent of this mellifluous instrument.

His recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre showed him to be a performing artist of the first rank. With the South African Francois du Toit at the piano --- a considerable role in the works played, not a mere accompanist --- Bryan Crumpler produced an evening of delight. He is a tall, big young man, and his style of playing is a little flamboyant, with a fair amount of swaying and swinging, possibly a characteristic derived from playing jazz. The tonal quality he extracted from his clarinet was outstanding: pure, controlled and accurate.

Predictably enough, the most impressive playing of the evening came in music written by the two major composers on the programme, Schumann and Brahms. Schumann`s Three Romances, Op. 94, were written as a Christmas present for the composer`s wife in 1849. They are unfamiliar works for most people and they are lovely, eloquent and introspective. Here, as elsewhere in the programme, Francois du Toit`s contribution at the keyboard was excellent, high technical skill with a minimum of fuss.

Brahms wrote four chamber works involving the clarinet, including two late sonatas. We heard the Sonata in E flat major, Op. 120, No. 2. Brahms was 61 when he wrote it, three years before his death, and it is tinged with a certain melancholy. Bryan Crumpler conveyed the mood expertly.

Not that the work is mournful. The piano part in particular has passages of great power and vigour, and the final movement is an imposing display of Brahms`s mastery in writing variations. Weber, a prolific writer for the clarinet, was represented by his Grande Duo Concertante in B flat major, Op. 48. As the title suggests, this is a brilliant virtuoso piece, not very deep but exciting and enjoyable.

The second half of the programme was devoted to twentieth century music, most of it in lighter vein: a sonata by Francis Poulenc, John Williams`s music for the film Schindler`s List, and pieces by the American Nicholas Pavkovic (born 1963) and the Russian Alexander Rosenblatt (born 1956).

The evening`s prelude performers (funded by the National Lottery) were a band of steel drum players, trained and conducted by Bryan Clarke, principal percussionist with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

I must admit that I had reservations beforehand about their inclusion on the programme but I was won over completely within a few minutes. The players were about 20 children from a school at Pietermaritzburg, taught under the auspices of the Steel Drum Foundation.

With humble resources --- the steel drums are what we used to call 44-gallon petrol drums, plus bits cut from them --- these young performers produced some really lively popular music, dancing and swaying with obvious enjoyment as they played.

Their enthusiasm communicated itself to the audience. Hats off to Bryan Clarke and others who work with him to enrich the lives of disadvantaged youngsters.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

8 April 2008 - A. Cruickshank - (Harpsichord & Piano) & H. Huyssen - (Baroque Cello)

Viva Baroque Cello was the cheerful title chosen by the three players for their unusual recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. Most of the programme was a step into the eighteenth century, but there were two works that belonged very much to the twenty-first. And to some degree the star of the evening was an instrument rather than a player.

An interesting story, this. About 30 years ago an unknown tramp found the dilapidated body of a cello in a rubbish heap at Paarl, in the Western Cape. Recognising that it might be of value, he took it to two local residents, who passed it on to an expert whom they happened to know. This person, Bill Robson, took some time to begin the job of restoration. When he did so he found that this seemed to be a rare eighteenth century instrument designed for five strings (instead of the usual four), of a type devised by Johann Sebastian Bach to bridge the gap in pitch between a cello and a viola. This cello was played in the recital by Pretoria`born Hans Huyssen, who is a cellist, composer, conductor and teacher of music. He was very much the dominant personality in this recital, musically and verbally (he spoke at length several times about the music).

The eighteenth century works were played in the style of the period, with Piet van Rooyen of Bloemfontein supplying a basso continuo, a kind of basic accompaniment, on a second cello. The keyboard role was performed by Andrew Cruickshank of Johannesburg at a harpsichord built in South Africa with a kit imported from the United States.

The main items were two of Bach`s three sonatas for cello and keyboard instrument (usually the piano these days). These are quite well known and of exceptional musical quality and range, from the eloquent opening Adagio of the G major sonata to the irresistible vigour of the second movement of the D major sonata. Expertly played and most enjoyable (though I think that most people would prefer to hear a piano rather than the thin sound of the tiny, box-like harpsichord).

Still in the eighteenth century, the players performed a fine Sonata in E minor, RV 40, by Vivaldi and a Sonata in G major by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier. The latter was something of a revelation. Boismortier, who lived and worked in France in the first half of the eighteenth century, is almost forgotten these days, but here was a delightful piece with a warm, romantic sound and plenty of interesting ideas. The modern items were compositions by two of the performers. Hans Huyssen played his own piece for solo cello called Ugubhu, a representation of traditional African music with strong, basic rhythms and brief fragments of melody.

Andrew Cruickshank moved from the harpsichord to a piano to play his Kwela of Rhythm. I seem to remember that the township kwela provided some well-known pop tunes thirty or forty years ago. This piece is nothing like that at all. It is stark, angular and aggressively modern in manner. Interesting and quite impressive, but I can`t see them whistling it in the taxis of Soweto.

The prelude performer of the evening was a capable young recorder player, Michael Loubser of Durban High School. Accompanied by Bobby Mills he played music by Sammartini (Giuseppe, I think; there were two brothers, Giuseppe and Giovanni, both composers in the eighteenth century) and by Telemann and York Bowen.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

11 March 2008- Vassily Primakov (piano) Moscow

The audience gave this accomplished young Russian pianist a standing ovation.

It was an all-Romantic programme and Primakov took full advantage of "Romantic licence" to give the respective work's his distinctive personal interpretations.

He was fully equipped technically to master the difficult virtuoso passages, and his impeccable tone and carefully balanced textures revealed, with great clarity, the compositional details in the music.

Despite the limitations of the piano, his dynamic range, often beautifully subtle, at other times full and powerful but always unforced and "cantabile" in tone, revealed his essentially expressive and lyrical approach to music characterisation.

Although his use of rubato was at times some what excessive, it was done with conviction and always with the melodic shaping and direction sensitive to the musical expectations in the score.

It was an absorbing and musical experience for the listeners.

The Prelude Performer, talented saxophonist, Jonathan Judge with veteran jazz pianist, Melvyn Peters, accompanying, entertained with two fine improvisational jazz numbers.

Finally, Mussorgsky`s Pictures at an Exhibition, a lengthy and rather diffuse work, was given a performance of sustained excitement and enjoyment. The huge resonance of the final "picture", The Great Gate of Kiev, brought this splendid recital to a stirring conclusion.   

Barbara Trofimczyk

26 Feb 2008 - Geneva Brass Quintet (Switzerland)

This must be the most unusual concert the Friends of Music have presented for a long time. It is a fair bet that most of the sizeable audience in the Durban Jewish Centre had never before heard a brass quintet (not counting Salvation Army bands). And they seemed to enjoy the experience, although some had reservations.

The quintet consists of five young Swiss players of brass instruments who met while studying at the Geneva Conservatory of Music. Their instruments are trumpet, cornet (similar to a trumpet), horn, trombone and tuba and they are all obviously highly expert performers. The players are, respectively, Samuel Gaille, Lionel Walter, Christophe Sturzenegger, David Rey and Eric Rey.

Two problems arise with a concert of this kind. The repertory for brass quintet is obviously limited. And five brass instruments make an imposing sound but it is more or less unvaried and can be a trifle wearying to ears attuned to symphony orchestras.

The five players here were without question technically excellent, and they did achieve quite a range of tonal effects in a mainly unfamiliar programme. This included a little gentle Brahms; arrangements of Bizet (Carmen) and Rossini (the last part of the William Tell Overture); contemporary works by Etienne Crausaz, a young Swiss composer who specialises in music for wind instruments, and Jean-Francois Michel, a French composer of the same type; and an interesting three-movement work by a Cape Town composer, Allan Stephenson.

The Quasi Ragtime which ended Allan Stephenson`s composition brought forth some brilliant fast playing and an excited ovation from the audience.

An interesting and enjoyable concert.

The evening`s prelude performer was 17-year-old Sharon Chung from Northlands Girls` High School, who played piano pieces by Debussy and Chopin.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

12 February 2008 - Jérôme Pernoo - cello (France) & Jérôme Ducros - piano (France)

This French duo have played in Durban a few times over the years and have won many admirers, and there was a sizeable audience for this excellent recital given for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The two Jeromes combine great technical prowess with a truly artistic insight into the music they are playing. The gave a programme ranging from Bach to a contemporary composer named Guillaume Connesson, and all four compositions were presented with conviction and authority.

I suppose I am old-fashioned, but I thought they were at their best in Bach's Cello Sonata in D major, one of Bach's three works in this genre. Both players revelled in this joyous music, which after three hundred years still sounds astonishingly modern in melody, harmony and rhythm. Small wonder that Bach is plundered from time to time by pop musicians looking for something new and catchy.

Prokofiev's Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 119, is a late work, written four years before his death in 1953. With its rich sonorities, sharp wit and quite lyrical interludes it is rather more accessible than much of Prokofiev's music, and the performance was absolutely outstanding. "I have never enjoyed Prokofiev so much", somebody said to me at the interval.

Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata is one of the masterworks of the chamber repertory. The arpeggione was a six-stringed instrument invented a couple of hundred years ago by one of Schubert's friends, and the ever-obliging composer wrote this sonata for it. The instrument did not last but the sonata has, which is not surprising, considering that it is Schubert at his most engaging and eloquent. The outer movements are irresistibly appealing, and the brief Adagio is one of the most beautiful things Schubert ever wrote.

The score is taxing, especially for the cellist, and the players handled the difficulties with aplomb and good judgment. Finally, we had a world premiere of a two-movement work, Les Chants de l'Agartha, songs of the Agartha, by the French composer Guillaume Connesson, who was born in 1970. In an introduction Jerome Pernoo explained that the Agartha is a mythical underground kingdom beneath the desert of Mongolia. The first movement of this sonata depicts that kingdom and the second is the dance of the king of that territory, who rules everything.

The music, written specifically for the two Jeromes, turned out to be aggressively modern, the first movement atmospheric and often cast in the lower register of the cello and the piano, the second movement a kind of wild danse macabre. Difficult to fathom at first hearing, but there was no denying the brilliance of the performance. In response to prolonged and enthusiastic applause the players repeated the second movement as an encore. The evening's prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was a nineteen-year-old saxophonist, Maxine Matthews. Accompanied at the piano by Anne Muir, she played Darius Milhaud's well-known Scaramouche suite, written originally for two pianos and adapted by the composer himself for the saxophone.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

29 JANUARY 2008 - Florian Uhlig - piano (Germany)


The Friends of Music, a Durban organization which promotes the love of music through a very impressive concert series kicked off its 2008 season with a magnificent recital by German pianist Florian Uhlig. Mr Uhlig is definitely no stranger to Durban audiences, having made many concerto and recital appearances here during the last 10 years.

The first work on the programme was Mozart's Sonata in F Major, K332, a work which was published in Vienna in 1784, but written earlier to feature in his own concerts. It is a work which alternates fiery brilliance with passages of moving lyricism. Mr Uhlig made the most of these contrasts, and the dramatic shifts between F Major and D Minor in the first movement, which always take the listener by surprise, were not lost on him. He captured the obligatory Mozartian elegance and refinement with ease. The last movement was exceptionally fast but technical control was always in evidence. I must comment on Mr Uhlig's exemplary pedalling-- an aspect of piano playing which is often neglected. The accuracy of his pedalling, which can so easily mar a melodic line, was a constant thrill.

The first half was concluded by a rendition of Beethoven's 1802 Sonata in E flat, Op.31 no. 3. This is a four movement work which lacks the usual slow movement which is replaced by a lyrical and very well known Menuetto. The first movement was full of humour which is a feature of this piece, unusual for Beethoven. I felt that Mr Uhlig made perhaps too much of the many ritardandi which the composer indicates throughout this movement. In my opinion this seems to bring the impetus to a halt every time the theme is repeated.

However no such reservations were present in the remaining three movements. The Scherzo was light and tongue in cheek, with some fine left hand articulation, and the finale, which is really a brilliant 'tarantella' in 6/8 time, was executed with tremendous gusto.

The second half really demonstrated Mr Uhlig's vast palette of tonal colour, particularly in a ravishing account of Ravel's Jeux d'eau. The splashing of water was evoked with consummate skill, and the tremendous technical difficulties posed no problem. To me this was the highlight of the evening despite the fact that a string broke. But more of that later.

The recital was concluded with Prokofiev's Sonata no. 6 Op.82, which was composed at the start of World War II in 1939-40. It is a piece which many listeners would perhaps find difficult, but whose appeal would improve upon closer acquaintance. The programme notes described it as being "harmonically abrasive", and while this is perhaps true, the vibrant rhythm and lyrical contrasts of this work cannot fail to draw listeners into its unique sound world. Mr Uhlig made the most of the almost Impressionist lyrical sections, once again with extremely refined pedalling, but it was the wild, vivid writing of the finale which brought the recital to a thrilling conclusion.

Andrew Warburton

04 December 2007 - RISING STARS

It is now an established tradition for the Friends of Music Society to round off their concert series at the end of the year with the "Rising Stars" concert which, presented in collaboration with the S.A. Society of Music Teachers, showcases some of the more talented pupils of members of the society.

Considered a prestigeous occasion for these young musicians, who proudly add that to their C V, many of the previous participants are now actively involved in music as a career.

At this year's concert on Tuesday evening much potential was again in evidence, and while technical perfection and musical maturity was not fully achieved in all, there were a number of wonderfully accomplished performances.

The most outstanding of these were from 14year old violinist Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell with accompanist Liesl-Maret Jacobs, and Jonathan Judge's jazz saxaphone items which, together with an exciting display of jazz improvisation from seasoned jazz pianist, Melvyn Peters, brought this special concert to a resounding close.


Barbara Trofimczyk

12 November 2007 - Philippe Quint (violin) and Francois du Toit (piano)

Good news travels fast. The Russian-born American violinist Philippe Quint scored a triumph with Tchaikovsky`s concerto at the symphony concert in Durban12 days ago, a short-notice recital was arranged by Dr Vera Dubin of the Friends of Music, and an exceptionally large audience, about 200 people, turned up at the Durban Jewish Centre to hear the young maestro. Many of them were people who are seldom seen at Friends of Music concerts.

Partnered by the excellent South African pianist Francois du Toit, the violinist gave another impressive display of his technical and interpretative skills. He produces a big, brilliant tone from his 1723 Stradivarius violin, and he has a big, confident stage personality to match it, with an agreeably flamboyant touch of the showman. He left his native Russia to study and settle in the United States and he is now, at the age of about 30, a glittering star among performers of classical music. He has long years ahead and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him.

The first half of his Friends of Music programme was for the very serious listener. He opened with a sonata by the eighteenth century French composer Jean-Marie Leclair, played with style and élan. The music was attractive, lyrical, brilliant, and not much different from dozens of other pieces from this period.

We then took a long stride into the twentieth century with the Kleine Suite by Miklos Rozsa, a Hungarian composer who emigrated to the United States and died in 1995 at the age of 88. He was a prolific composer who combined two contrasting careers, as a writer of rather advanced orchestral and chamber music and as a writer of musical soundtracks for films such as Ben Hur, Lust for Life and Knights of the Round Table.

The Kleine Suite is a set of pieces based on Hungarian folk music, difficult to play and not really easy on the ear. It brought forth some vividly forceful playing from the violinist and the pianist. It should be mentioned that Francois du Toit contributed substantially to the success of this recital.

Prokofiev`s Sonata No. 2 in D major is another work that is difficult for performer and listener. The quality of Philippe Quint`s playing, virtuoso technique and a lovely singing tone in the more lyrical passages, made it easier for the listeners to absorb the dissonant complexities of Prokofiev`s score.

After the acerbities of the twentieth century Beethoven`s Sonata No. 5 in F major, the Spring Sonata, must have come as a relief to the audience. Lovely tone here, and in Ravel`s gypsy-flavoured Tzigane. And by way of lighter relief the violinist played encores by Fritz Kreisler and Scott Joplin.

A fascinating recital, but was it the right programme for an audience that must have been puzzled by much of the first half` Durban music-lovers are not, generally speaking, academics and rarified cognoscenti. The violin repertory is huge, and I suspect that a programme of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms would have been much more to their taste.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was the 23-year-old baritone Bulelani Madikizela, who has been selected to enter the International Voice Academy in Cardiff. Accompanied by David Smith, he displayed a powerful and accurate voice in arias by Tchaikovky and Verdi. A bit too much vibrato, though.

The prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was yet another gifted young musician of eastern origin: a 12-year-old violinist, Yeakyung Kim, from Durban Girls` College, who, accompanied by Gerhard Geist, showed skill and confidence in three brief items.-->


Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)

06 November 2007 - Jan Palenicek (cello) and Jitka Cechova (piano)

These two Czech musicians provided an evening of superior music played in superior fashion before an enthusiastic Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre.

They are an interesting couple: husband and wife, with two young children back home in Prague; Jitka Cechova a tall, elegant, remarkably good-looking young woman, Jan Palenicek a burly, commanding personality who looks rather as if he were a Springbok rugby forward who had decided to take up culture.

Both showed themselves to be superb artists, the cellist playing with a big, bold tone and great technical prowess, the pianist outstanding in technique and in judgment of the dynamics of duo playing.

Their programme was one for the connoisseur: Schumann`s three Fantasiestucke Op. 73, Brahms`s Sonata in F major, Op. 99, Beethoven`s Sonata in A major, Op. 69 and Martinu`s Variations on a Slovak Theme.

The three Schumann pieces are lovely and not often played. Likewise the big Brahms sonata, in which the cellist showed the unusual power of his playing, particularly in some memorable pizzicato passages.

Beethoven wrote five sonatas for cello and piano, and the Op. 69 is the best of them, and possibly the greatest piece in the entire repertory for these two instruments. It was played with great eloquence, with absolute clarity and with fine balance between the two performers.

The Variations by their twentieth century compatriot Bohuslav Martinu are colourful, exotic and brilliant, to some extent folk music in modern dress, and they brought forth more outstanding playing from cellist and pianist.

All this excellence came with a refreshing absence of pomp and pretension. It was a warm night, and Jan Palenicek had to pause several times between movements to mop his head and pass his spectacles to his wife at the keyboard for a quick polishing. And a ringing cell phone at one point did not disturb their composure; they smiled and waited patiently for the noise to subside.

Their encore maintained the high tone of the evening: Ravel`s Habanera.

The prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was yet another gifted young musician of eastern origin: a 12-year-old violinist, Yeakyung Kim, from Durban Girls` College, who, accompanied by Gerhard Geist, showed skill and confidence in three brief items.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)

16 October 2007 - Pieter Jacobs - piano

Mozart and Prokofiev seem an odd couple but the combination worked well in an impressive piano recital given by Pieter Jacobs of Pretoria for a Friends of Music audience in the Durban Jewish Centre.

Pieter Jacobs himself is an unusually interesting young man. His extensive academic and professional career seems to have embraced equally music and electronic engineering. In South Africa he was awarded Master`s degrees in music and engineering. In the United States he achieved the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Yale University. And at Boston University he pursued research dealing with the mathematical modelling of aspects of the motor control of piano playing (I am quoting from his programme note).

He has appeared as a piano soloist, concerto player and chamber musician and, by way of variation, has written articles in international journals about music perception and electromagnetism. And all this from an individual who looks positively boyish but is probably somewhere between 25 and 30.

As a pianist he is first-rate, with an imposing keyboard technique and a concentrated, serious approach to the music. He opened his programme with Mozart`s Sonata in F major, K. 332, a very fine work, with dramatic contrasts and a brilliant presentation, all this performed with verve and style.
This was followed by another quite familiar Mozart composition, the Rondo in A minor, K511, the composer in a serious and solemn mood, lifted every now and then by the graceful piano inventiveness and the sheer poetry of the music.

After the interval we moved on a couple of centuries to Prokofiev, represented by a little-known piano version of his well-known Romeo and Juliet ballet music. I had never before heard these Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75, and I would not have thought that the orchestral music could be transferred successfully to the solo piano. But this is Prokofiev`s own arrangement (he himself was an outstanding pianist), made in the nineteen-thirties in an attempt to popularise his ballet, and the keyboard layout is most effective (and difficult to play).

Pieter Jacobs surmounted the technical problems with great confidence and panache, giving a convincing interpretation of this vivid music.

The audience for this most enjoyable recital was dismally small. The Friends of Music have 263 paid-up members, but not more than about a dozen attended this performance. People are of course entitled to do as they wish, but if they want live classical music to continue in Durban they should support it by turning up at concerts.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)

25 September 2007 - Malcolm Nay - pianist and Zanta Hofmeyr - violinist

It was a great pity that the turnout for this occasion was so small as it was amongst the finest recitals we've had in this concert series.

The three Violin Sonatas by Grieg, wonderfully idiomatic for the two instruments and abounding in the expectant Nordic lyricism so typical of this composer, received a beautifully sincere and polished rendering by Zanta Hofmeyr (violin) and Malcolm Nay (piano).

These two highly accomplished performers identified perfectly with the stylistic features in the music capturing the clearly defined sonata structures and distinctive musical characterisation with superb artistry. It was chamber music at its very best and a sheer pleasure.

Also enjoyable were "The Three Opera Kings", prelude performers for this concert. These three young singers along with their mentor and accompanist, David Smith, illustrated the fine work that is emanating from the fledgling opera school at the University of K Z N

Barbara Trofimczyk

4 September 2007 - Trio


Three Brahms piano trios were presented at this highly successful Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre, with outstanding playing before a big and appreciative audience.

The performing trio consisted of Pieter Schoeman (violin), Anmari van der Westhuizen (cello) and Albie van Schalkwyk (piano). As their names indicate, they are all South Africans but they have a record of imposing achievements in the wider world abroad. Pieter Schoeman is co-concertmaster of the London Philharmonic Orchestra; Anmari van der Westhuizen has played as a soloist and chamber musician in Vienna and Salzburg (she now teaches at the University of Cape Town and is in much demand as a performer); and Albie van Schalkwyk has lectured in Austria for several years and is now a piano professor in Bloemfontein.

Their playing of Brahms was ample evidence of their musical gifts. Albie van Schalkwyk has a big, bold, strong keyboard technique, a prerequisite for most of Brahms`s piano music. Pieter Schoeman has a sweet, true and expressive violin tone that soared eloquently in all three works. And Anmari van der Westhuizen produced lovely sounds from her cello and showed a nimble technique in rapid and pizzicato passages.

They played the three trios in the opposite of chronological order, starting with the last and best, the Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101. This quite late work, composed by Brahms in 1886 when he was 53 years old, contains dramatic contrasts of force and grace. After a stormy opening to the first movement the composer relaxes with a typically broad, mellow theme. The scurrying second movement is followed by an Andante grazioso, serene and almost sentimental. And the final movement returns to the uncompromising toughness of the first.

The performers captured admirably this wide array of moods. They were undemonstrative but intense, dedicated to making music, not showing off, and their rapport was so close and sympathetic that it would be invidious to single out any one player for special praise.

The Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87 opens with a theme in octaves for violin and cello, giving these two players an immediate opportunity to show their ability, and very impressive it was too. The work as a whole is not quite as grand as the C minor Trio but it is consistently attractive, with a slow movement, a theme and variations, that has a slight touch of gypsy music about it.

The programme ended with Brahms`s early Trio No. in B major, Op 8, melodious, rhythmical and vigorous. All in all, an evening of unalloyed pleasure.

The concert started with the prelude performers, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust. These turned out to be eleven recorder players aged nine to 13, trained by Sandra Breschi of Durban. They showed technical skill and musicality in playing six short pieces. I think it is wonderful that a love of good music should be inculcated at such an early age and, moreover, as players, not mere listeners.

The evening`s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Aristide du Plessis, a 16-year old cellist from Westville Boys` High School, who made a favourable impression as he played Bach, Faure and Saint-Saens.

  ---- Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

14 August 2007 - Ensemble Hans Gal

This was a connoisseur`s chamber concert, but unfortunately very few connoisseurs were prepared to turn up for it at the Durban Jewish Centre. The audience was sparse, to put it mildly.

Perhaps this was predictable. Four of the five items on the programme were from the twentieth century, and one wonders whether a leavening of Beethoven or Mozart might not have attracted more listeners.

Ah well, the faithful few were rewarded with playing of the highest quality in a long and taxing programme. The performers were Mark Nixon, piano, Shelley Levy, clarinet, and Katalin Kertesz, violin, the first two South Africans with wide experience abroad, the third a Hungarian. They call themselves the Ensemble Hans Gal because they are dedicated to playing the works of this Austrian-born composer who spent half his life in Britain and died there in 1987 at the age of 97. There is a personal connection: Katalin Kertesz, the violinist, is married to a grandson of the composer.

So the programme included a Trio for violin, clarinet and piano, Op. 97, by Hans Gal, written in 1950. It proved to be quite accessible, lyrical rather than abrasive, in the late romantic idiom rather than aggressively modern. Not least among its merits is the composer`s deft balancing of the different tonal qualities of the three instruments, with the clarinet part well defined. The audience seemed to enjoy it.

The concert opened with the first of Brahms`s two Sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, written three years before the composer`s death in 1897. For such a late work this is surprisingly robust music, strong, vigorous. Both performers were in splendid form. Mark Nixon is an expert pianist, with a fine technique and an expressive approach and Shelley Levy played the clarinet part with great skill and confidence. For me the delightful third movement, Allegretto grazioso, was a high point of the entire evening.

Debussy`s Sonata for violin and piano brought Katalin Kertesz to the fore. She is a violinist of poise and good judgment, and she produces a full, rounded tone. The sonata, written a year before Debussy`s death in 1918, has been criticised as being a jumble of ideas and a falling-off in the composer`s creative gifts. I find it very attractive in its free, rhapsodic way, and Mark Nixon and Katalin Kertesz certainly extracted full value from the music.

Two more twentieth century works completed the programme: Aram Khachaturian`s busy, folksy Trio for violin, clarinet and piano and Bela Bartok`s Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano, lively, rhythmical and uncompromisingly dissonant, as one would expect from this Hungarian master. And the encore offered more from the twentieth century: a typically catchy item by Darius Milhaud.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was the soprano Ziningi Hlomuka, who is a third year BA Music student. Accompanied by Bobby Mills, she sang two arias by Donizetti, displaying a good, true voice of considerable agility, a sense of musical style, and a pleasant stage presence.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

Bronwen Forbay (Soprano)

Bronwen Forbay is one of Durban`s favourite daughters, a lovely singer with a delightful personality, and she showed her wide range of talents in this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre. She is now a music doctorate student at the University of Cincinnati, in the mid-western United States, and in this recital she was assisted by three of her colleagues from that music school: her husband Randall Umstead (tenor), who is an American; Stephen Pierce, piano, who is a South African; and Ryan Prijic, an American violinist.

At first glance the programme looked intimidatingly obscure. It included settings by Benjamin Britten of four poems by W.H Auden, four Afrikaans songs, and a lengthy meditation by the twentieth century French composer Olivier Messiaen. In think the audience did find the Britten and the Messiaen heavy going (as most audiences would), but the sheer artistry of the performers carried the listeners successfully through this abstruse music.

Bronwen Forbay and Stephen Pierce gave informal introductions to the works, and this helped a good deal. Of the four Brittten/Auden songs one entitled Nocturne was readily accessible, a rather romantic piece, and the others were given with great animation by singer and pianist (a very good pianist). Introducing Messiaen`s 1931 composition La mort du nombre, The death of numbers, Stephen Pierce said it was rarely performed. This is not surprising, given the elliptical nature of the words and music, but again Bronwen Forbay`s full and admirably trained soprano voice carried the day, especially in the ecstatic final stanza. In this work she and the pianist were joined by Randall Umstead (tenor) and Ryan Prijic (violin).

Four Afrikaans songs by S. le Roux Marais (1896-1976) proved immediately attractive: the first, Heimwee (Homesickness), rather in the manner of Mendelssohn, the second, Kom dans Klaradyn (Come dance Klaradyn), a lilting Viennese-type waltz, and the fourth, Rooidag (Daybreak), a brief and exuberant setting of a poem by N.P. van Wyk Louw.

Incidentally, the listeners were greatly helped by the fact that the programme carried the words of all these songs, with English translations by Bronwen herself. During the course of the evening she sang in English, Afrikaans, French and Italian. Territory that was more familiar was covered in songs by Delibes (The Maidens of Cadiz), Rossini (the celebrated Una voce poco fa from The Barber of Seville), Mozart and Verdi, and here the singer showed her tonal agility and accuracy in a full display of coloratura pyrotechnics.

In response to prolonged applause she sang an encore, the spiritual He`s got the whole world in His hand, which provided perhaps the most heart-touching moments of a beautifully warm, intimate concert.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was Aristide du Plessis, a cellist with a skill and maturity beyond his 17 years. Accompanied by his mother, Hester du Plessis, he gave a confident and eloquent account of Max Bruch`s Kol Nidrei.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

19 June 2007 - Kearsney College Choir

The Kearsney College Choir has in the past been a big drawcard for the Friends of Music, and so it was at this concert at the Durban Jewish Centre, attended by an enthusiastic audience of about 150 people and sponsored by the Jakamar Trust.

This 40-member choir (all boys) has won awards at international festivals, and deservedly so. The singing, discipline and understanding are first-rate and are a great testimonial to Angela Stevens, who has been in charge since the choir was formed 11 years ago and who conducted at this concert.

The programme format differed somewhat from previous occasions in that the choir performed only about half the items, the rest being taken up by instrumental and vocal soloists. The choir is undoubtedly the star performer, but presumably the intention in allocating solo items is to encourage young musicians and singers and give them a chance to show their abilities.

This was a popular concert, with no pretensions to presenting classical music, except for an interesting saxophone version of a piece by the early eighteenth century Italian composer Benedetto Marcello and a brief composition by Max Reger. For the rest, it was well-known music, light-hearted and romantic, with some attractive novelties such as a Serbian folk song and an extended and evocative piece called Safari by a Norwegian named Jan Magne Forde, both of these given by the choir.

The concert was given a rousing start with the first item, Rock and Roll is Here to Stay, sung with great animation and plenty of body movement and gestures. There were songs by Freddie Mercury, George Gershwin and Billy Joel and a tribute to Nelson Mandela by the Cape Town musician Abdullah Ibrahim. And at the end a `folklore medley` offered some uninhibited ethnic material, with whistling, shouting, stamping, bird calls and a really remarkable simulation of a thunderstorm.

It all made a most enjoyable evening. I am reluctant to talk about quotas, as some sports administrators do, but I think I should mention that nearly half the members of the choir are black youngsters from Kearnsey College. The obvious camaraderie in the entire group of singers was truly impressive, black and white in close harmony. Would that the music of our lives was always thus.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

29 May 2007 - Dror Biran (piano) & Sergei Ostrovsky (violin)

A connoisseur`s programme of sonatas for violin and piano drew a sizeable audience to the Durban Jewish Centre for this recital by two distinguished young musicians from Israel.

Sergey Ostrovsky (violin) and Dror Biran (piano) had both appeared in the previous ten days with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, making a big impression in concertos by, respectively, Sibelius and Mozart. In their recital they showed an admirable rapport and interpretative insight.

They opened with one of the most delightful works in the entire repertory, Beethoven`s Sonata in F major, Op. 24, the Spring Sonata. This is Beethoven in a relaxed and humorous mood, but the evidence of his unique genius shines throughout the four-movement work. The players performed with impeccable technique, love and dedication. Dror Biran`s piano playing was, I thought, unusually forceful for a work as lyrical and song-like as this, and I wondered whether he should not have had the lid of the piano half closed instead of fully open.

Be that as it may, the performance in general was splendid, marred only by the noisy tread of a member of the audience who decided to walk out, and then back again, half way through the Adagio movement, earning a rebuke from the platform by the violinist.

Maurice Ravel`s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major is a landmark of twentieth century music and it still sounds very modern even though eighty years have passed since it was first performed in Paris. It is a fascinating work, cool and elegant, with a remarkable second movement called Blues. Ravel was interested in the jazz of the period, and here he produced a kind of sophisticated version of the rhythms and melancholy mood of the old New Orleans Blues,

The sonata bristles with technical difficulties for both players, and these were surmounted with great skill.

Brahms`s Sonata in G major, Op. 78, is a lovely mellow, dreamy work from the composer`s mature years, with subtle integration of violin and piano and a deeply romantic and rather mysterious slow movement. All of which was very much to the taste of the players and the audience.

By way of an unprogrammed bonus Sergey Ostrovsky gave a beautiful performance of a Bach sonata for unaccompanied violin, poised, balanced and totally absorbing.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was a young soprano, Nomveliso Nocuze, who has been trained by Colleen Philp of Durban. Accompanied by Andrew Warburton, she sang a song by Richard Strauss, an aria by Puccini and a Negro spiritual, and displayed a strong true voice and a good stage presence, especially in the spiritual `He`s got the whole world in his hand`.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

14 April 2007 - Anzel Gerber (cello) & Manolis Neophytou (piano)

This recital in the Durban Jewish Centre was the third appearance for the Friends of Music by the Pretoria cellist Anzel Gerber. She has been outstanding in the past, and she seems to get better all the time. In partnership with the Greek Cypriot pianist Manolis Neophytou she presented a programme of rarities which gave great enjoyment from start to finish.

These are both quite young performers --- Manolis Neophytou is 30 and Anzel Gerber about the same age --- but they brought to their playing not only high technical skill but also an impressively mature artistic approach. Shostakovich`s Sonata for cello and piano Op. 40 is a difficult work for players and listeners but the performance here was so committed and intense that it captured the unwavering attention of the audience.

Shostakovich`s music is generally rather bleak, which is understandable, considering the political milieu in which he lived, Russia from 1906 to 1975. But it is also powerful and compelling and moving, and this sonata reveals a wide range of moods and emotions, from a solemn lyricism to the violent rhythmic drive so often associated with this composer`s music.

The sonata is in four movements and runs for about 25 minutes. The cellist produced a beautiful tone in its pensive moments and a fiercely accurate technique in the more vigorous passages, such as the remarkable second movement , with its hints of church bells amid the savagery.

At the piano Manolis Neophytou was controlled, poised and admirable. He is earning a substantial reputation in Europe, and it is easy to see why. Incidentally, neophyte means in English a novice, religious or otherwise, but this pianist is no novice; he is experienced and accomplished.

The other main work on the programme was Schubert`s Arpeggione Sonata, written originally for the arpeggione, a six-stringed instrument that was a kind of cross between a guitar and a cello. The arpeggione did not last long but this sonata did, the arpeggione part transferred to cello or viola. The slow movement in particular contains some of Schubert`s most beautiful music.

Two lighter works completed the concert: Tchaikovsky`s Pezzo Capriccioso Op 62, a capricious piece if you like, and a Humoresque written by the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

The informative programme notes referred to Tchaikovsky as `one of Russia`s most prolific composers`. Surely the correct description is `Russia`s greatest composer`. Or am I being politically incorrect`

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust, was yet another gifted young violinist with eastern origins, 12-year-old Yea kyung Kim from Durban Girls` College.

She showed fine technique and a real insight into the music as she played a deceptively difficult gigue from a Bach Partita, for unaccompanied violin, and, accompanied by Gerhard Geist, the one-movement Concerto in A minor by the nineteenth century Belgian composer Jean-Baptiste Accolay.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

13 March 2007 - Avigail Bushakovitz (violin) & Ammiel Bushakovitz (piano)

This recital at the Durban Jewish Centre was very much a family affair. Avigail Bushakovitz is well known here as a brilliant young violinist, now aged 19. On this occasion she was joined by her brothers, Ammiel Bushakovitz (piano) and Benjamin Bushakovitz (guitar), who are close to her in age.

They are all good performers, but there is no doubt that Avigail is the star. Their family home is now in George in the Cape, but all three of them were born in Jerusalem, an interesting reversal of the well-known brain drain from South Africa; this family has been a tap for an inflow of musical talent from Israel.

Playing Bach`s four-movement Sonata No 1 in G minor for unaccompanied violin, Avigal showed immediately that the gifted child has now become a mature and confident artist. Bach`s genius ensures that there is never a dull moment in twenty minutes of solo violin, and Avigail produced a full, rich tone and an expert technique, especially when she articulated the melodic threads of the second movement fugue.

Avigail was joined by Ammiel in Mozart`s Sonata in B flat, K 454. Mozart wrote nearly forty sonatas for violin and piano, and this is one of the best of them. Ammiel Bushakovitz is an accomplished and nimble-fingered pianist and, predictably enough, there was excellent balance between the two players in this lovely work, especially in the expansive and exquisite slow movement.

Two of Paganini`s notoriously difficult Caprices, for solo violin again, were handled skillfully and successfully by Avigail.

Benjamin Bushakovitz, guitarist, played two solos, an intimate and introspective piece by Albeniz and a lengthy and enjoyable tango by the Argentinian Astor Piazzola; and the three siblings joined forces in an exciting performance of Grigoras Dinicu`s Hora Staccato. This Romanian piece was popularised by Jascha Heifetz seventy years ago and it used to be played with great frequency, but I haven`t heard it for a long time. Most enjoyable.

The major item of the evening was Tchaikovsky`s Violin Concerto in D major, played by Avigail with Ammiel at the piano. The piano is a poor substitute for Tchaikovsky`s brilliant orchestral score, which stands musically in its own right and not as a mere accompaniment to the violin. And as she tackled the formidable challenges of this great virtuoso work Avigail seemed somewhat exposed by the lack of orchestral sound. One of the Beethoven or Brahms sonatas might have been more appropriate.

Be that as it may, the audience were highly enthusiastic, and understandably so.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

6 March 2007 - Konstantin Soukhovetski (Piano)

Konstantin Soukhovetski is a 26-year-old Russian pianist, born in Moscow but living for the past eight years in the United States (he speaks fluent English with an American accent).

He is a brilliant performer, as was amply demonstrated in this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre for the Friends of Music. Half his programme was devoted to Russian music, the rest to Chopin`s celebrated Sonata in B flat minor and to arrangements of film music by the American composer Philip Glass.

The Russian pieces were well off the beaten track, and I found them most enjoyable, especially Shostakovich`s Seven Dolls` Dances. This composer is associated in the minds of most people with long and rather grim symphonies, but he had his lighter side, as shown by his attractive jazz music. These dolls` dances fall into that genre, although they are not jazzy.

They are arrangements of music from his earlier ballet suites, delectable and, I imagine, difficult to play. Konstantin Soukhovetski gave a splendid performance, with humour and just the right amount of bravura.

Tchaikovsky`s 12 pieces called The Seasons are something of a rarity, except perhaps as examination set works for students. Konstantin played three of them with tender loving care.

Alexander Scriabin is a somewhat enigmatic composer: grand or grandiose, mystical or pretentious` His Sonata No 3 in F sharp minor was delivered by the pianist with enormous virtuosity, as impressive as a physical spectacle as it was as a sound experience. The pianist unravelled its complexities with great skill and commitment in a convincing and unusual performance.

Philip Glass (born 1937) made his reputation as an avant-garde, minimalist composer, but in recent years he has blossomed in the more accessible field of film music. His music for the film The Hours has become well-known and has been arranged as a piano concerto and as pieces for solo piano. Konstantin Soukhovetski played four of these. With their shifting harmonies and dark musical texture they are interesting, especially the first one, The Poet Acts, but to my ear they are what they were intended to be: background film music.

The Chopin sonata, which ended the recital, was played with great vigour and speed but sometimes lacked clarity, except in the beautiful slow theme of the second movement Scherzo.

Responding to enthusiastic applause, the pianist gave as an encore Liszt`s transcription of `O Star of Eve`, from Wagner`s Tannhauser.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund, was Samantha Leigh Goldblatt (recorder).

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

27 February 2007 - Ji-Hyun Park (Soprano)

The Korean soprano Ji-Hyun Park is one of the best singers we have heard in Durban for a long time. She has a magnificent voice and, as important, the artistry and sensibility to make the most of it.

She is a coloratura soprano, displaying the full ensemble of vocal gymnastics with consummate ease. But a voice of this quality really defies close definition. She is also a lyric soprano and a dramatic soprano, depending on what she is singing.

Ji-Hyun Park, who is 34, comes from South Korea (she studied music in Seoul) and has sung extensively in Korea and Italy. In this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre she presented a programme ranging from Debussy to Korean songs and showed impeccable judgment and technique in widely different items.

The South African pianist Elna van der Merwe made a significant contribution to the success of this recital. I hesitate to call her an accompanist because in most of these songs the piano is a partner of the voice, not a mere background. Elna van der Merwe`s playing was excellent: discreet, sympathetic and assertive when necessary.

Four Songs of Youth by Debussy opened the programme, illustrating immediately the rich, powerful and true quality of the soprano`s voice, this allied to a controlled restraint in the quieter passages. Likewise a set of songs by Richard Strauss gave both performers ample opportunities to show their skills.

Rachmaninov`s many beautiful songs seem sadly neglected these days. On this occasion we were given three of them, including the well-known, wordless Vocalise, sung with great power and expression.

A curiosity, Adolphe Adam`s vocal variations on the nursery tune which we know as Twinkle, twinkle, little star (Adam was surely inspired by Mozart`s piano variations on the same theme), was followed by familiar arias by Verdi and Delibes.

For me a high point of the recital was the performance of Three Korean Songs. I had thought that these might be inscrutably oriental. Instead they were decidedly Western European in melody and in piano accompaniment. Lovely, romantic, rhapsodic songs, sung with great affection and insight.

The prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund, was Terrance Lin, an 11-year-old Durban schoolboy pianist whose family come from Taiwan.

Altogether a memorable evening, in which East met West with splendid results.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

13 February 2007 - Vladimir Milosevic, piano

This young man from Serbia, just north of Greece, turned out to be a virtuoso of the first order when he gave an exacting and exciting recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The opening chords of Bach`s Partita No 2 in C minor made it clear that we were hearing a pianist of unusual power and authority, and this standard was sustained throughout a programme that wandered a little way, and enjoyably, off the beaten track.

Schubert`s Wanderer Fantasy was, for me anyway, the high point of the evening. This is a long and diffuse work, difficult to play and even more difficult to interpret and bring off successfully. Vladimir Milosevic`s massive technical skill and fine sense of form and structure produced a triumphant performance.

He has an unusually high finger action at the keyboard, a high risk technique, I would have thought, but his playing was note perfect, with a crystal-clear articulation in the rapid passages.

Beethoven`s two Rondos, Op. 51 took us into a more reflective and delicate world, Beethoven in a tender mood but with plenty of scope for prestidigitation, and here the pianist handled the florid ornamentation gracefully and effortlessly.

Schumann`s Toccata in C major, Op. 7 is a formidable study in double notes. No problem for our man from Serbia.

Finally, Chopin`s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22 was played, well, brilliantly. This work is some times played with Chopin`s rather thin orchestral accompaniment (we heard it with the KZNPO not long ago) but I think it is better as a piano solo.

Musically the Andante is far superior to the show-piece polonaise which follows, and the pianist displayed a lovely cantabile tone in this serene pastorale. As for the polonaise, this was played with an élan which at the end produced a standing ovation from the audience.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund, was Carmen Kinsey, a promising 17-year-old soprano from Northlands Girls` High School.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

9 January 2007 - John Ntsepe, Piano

A classical piano recital by a black African musician is a something of a rarity in South Africa, and John Ntsepe`s performance for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre was to a degree a pioneering event in Durban.

He lives and studies in Pretoria and started playing the piano at the age of fourteen, about a dozen years ago, I would guess. He has studied with various distinguished pianists here and abroad and has made public appearances in several parts of the country.

For his Durban recital he chose an ambitious and varied programme, displaying a strong talent and giving much pleasure to an enthusiastic and sympathetic audience. His best playing was in two big, dynamic works, Liszt`s Vallee d`Obermann and Prokofiev`s Sonata No. 7 in B flat major.

The Liszt piece comes from the set called Années de pelerinage, years of pilgrimage, years (1835 to 1839) in which Liszt traipsed around Switzerland and Italy with his mistress, the Countess Marie d`Agoult. It portrays a nineteenth century romantic hero, and John Ntsepe captured admirably, with good tonal balance, the contrasts of Liszt`s typical fire and fury and the more lyrical episodes

The Prokofiev sonata, dating from World War 2, is typical of the Russian master, with a spiky opening, a suave slow movement and a driving, rhythmical, sinister finale. Again the pianist demonstrated an imposing technique and a fine grasp of the form of the music.

This applied too, to a Chaconne by the 50-year-old South African composer Hofmeyr, who either has no first name or else is coy about using it. An attractive and interesting piece, convincingly played.

The pianist was less successful in Chopin`s Ballade No.2 in F major and the well-known The Maiden and the Nightingale by Granados. Perhaps he was nervous at the start of the recital; he seems to have a diffident and rather shy personality.

The first item, Alexander Siloti`s transcription of Bach`s Organ Prelude in G minor, was adorned by the unexpected appearance onstage of a bearded, red-shirted photographer who quietly stepped up behind the pianist and took pictures of him in action. Always something new out of Africa, as Pliny observed two thousand years ago.

The evening`s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund, was the 17-year-old violinist Gillian Bradtke, who has just completed her matric at Durban Girls` College.

She has a pleasantly unaffected and poised stage manner and she showed good intonation and phrasing in short works by Bach, Prokofiev and Schubert.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

17 October 2006 - Carlo Guaitoli

The Italian pianist Carlo Guaitoli, last heard in Durban two years ago, delivered a connoisseur`s programme for this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre, music of exceptional quality played by an exceptionally gifted performer.

The programme ranged from Liszt to Prokofiev and consisted of works that are not unfamiliar but are not very often played in public.

Liszt`s three Petrarch Sonnets date from the eighteen-thirties and forties, when the young hero of the keyboard was wandering though Switzerland and Italy with the Countess Marie d`Agoult, producing much lovely piano music and three illegitimate children (one of whom, Cosima, later married Richard Wagner). In typically extravagant fashion he called three volumes of music Annees de Pelerinage, years of pilgrimage.

The Petrarch sonnets (part of the years of pilgrimage) are based on poems by the fourteenth century Florentine writer Francesco Petrarch and they always seem to me to capture exactly the Renaissance atmosphere of elegant courtyards, fountains, pine trees, marble statues and romantic ardour. Carlo Guaitoli played these fine works with power and passion, giving due emphasis to their many subtle beauties.

More pianistic brilliance came with Mendelssohn`s Variations Serieuses, Op 54, a work which seems to be inexplicably neglected these days by concert pianists. It is Mendelssohn`s finest composition for the piano, and its various moods were presented with compelling virtuosity by Carlo Guaitoli.

This was followed by more Mendelssohn, the fleet-footed Rondo Capriccioso, a popular piece but, again, one that does not often appear on concert programmes. I think the last time I heard it in a concert hall was many decades ago, played by Claudio Arrau.

The two surviving movements of a 1905 sonata by the Czech composer Leos Janacek were new territory for me, and I found the music solemn and impressive. They are headed `Presentiment` and `Death`, and it was entirely appropriate that the pianist should announce that he was dedicating his performance to the memory of Lionel Bowman, the distinguished South African pianist, who had died earlier that day.

Ravel`s glittering and sardonic Valses nobles et sentimentales took us temporarily to the salons of twentieth century Paris, and Prokofiev`s one-movement Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 28, brought the recital to a driving, rhythmical, brilliant conclusion.

There was an encore: a beautifully phrased account of Mendelssohn`s well-known Song Without Words in E major, Op. 19, No. 1.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was the 13-year-old violinist Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell, who played the slow movement from Max Bruch`s Violin Concerto in G minor and a piece by the twentieth century Polish composer Karol Szymanowsky.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

26 September 2006 - Kotaro Fukumo

A young Japanese master pianist was given a standing ovation at the end of a most impressive recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Kotaro Fukuma was born in Tokyo 24 years ago, studied music in Paris and has already performed widely in Europe and America. He is a slim, spare figure with a self-effacing manner (`Thank you for coming to my concert, have a good evening`, he told the audience). But at the keyboard he is an entirely different person. He plays with power, confidence and insight, and he has a commanding technique.

His programme was taxing, unusual and totally enjoyable. He opened with three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), prompting me to wonder, not for the first time, why Scarlatti does not feature more prominently in the concert hall today. His 550 one-movement sonatas are an entire musical world, covering every kind of technique and emotion, but I have not heard an entire recital devoted to his music since Ralph Kirkpatrick, the greatest modern authority on Scarlatti, played in South Africa about 45 years ago.

The three sonatas chosen by Kotaro Fukuma, K.491. K.466 and K.24, are all good examples of the master`s keyboard style --- rapid scales, trills and ornaments, quick crossing of hands, lyrical melodies --- and the performance was bold and convincing.

Chopin`s Barcarolle Op 60 provided a romantic contrast, with its water-borne lilt and rich harmonies.

A novelty was a composition by a Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), written in the western idiom. This was a far cry from the noisy banging of so much modern piano music. It was delicate, rather whimsical, and to me it suggested something of the Japanese love of gardens.

The first two of Schumann`s Noveletten Op 21, brought forth more exceptional playing. These outstanding pieces are rather neglected, possibly because they are very difficult without much overt virtuoso display. Kotaro Fukuma again showed a keen insight into the complexities of the music, especially in the lovely lyrical passages.

Finally, Mussorgsky`s Pictures at an Exhibition, a lengthy and rather diffuse work, was given a performance of sustained excitement and enjoyment. The huge resonance of the final `picture`, The Great Gate of Kiev, brought this splendid recital to a stirring conclusion.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

29 August 2006 - Jenny Stern and Emmanuel Bach

The unusual duo partnership of mother and son attracted a sizeable audience to this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre, this in spite of the cold and windy weather.

Jenny Stern, who was born in Durban, is a pianist who now performs in Europe and is a visiting teacher at Eton College and at the Royal College of Music in London. Her son Emmanuel Bach (an auspicious name for a young musician) is a violinist who is studying in England and has performed extensively as a soloist and orchestra player.

They played a widely varied programme of twelve items ranging from Mozart to Kabalevsky. These seem to have been chosen largely for popular appeal and to demonstrate the accomplishment of the young violinist. And the audience obviously much enjoyed the performance of one of Dvorak`s Slavonic Dances (arranged by Fritz Kreisler), two pieces by Wieniawski, arrangements of two famous orchestral numbers from Prokofiev`s Romeo and Juliet and some equally celebrated Hebrew music by Ernest Bloch and Joseph Achron.

The two performers made an interesting and rather improbable contrast. Jenny Stern has an impressive keyboard technique, as was well displayed in two solo items, transcriptions by Liszt of songs by Schubert (Aufenthalt, Resting Place) and Schumann (Widmung, Devotion). She succeeded very well in these difficult and challenging arrangements, but elsewhere she seemed to play with a certain diffidence, compared with the confidence and assurance of her 13-year-old son. For example, there were times in the Mozart C major sonata, K. 303, which opened the programme, when the melodic line on the piano became subservient to the bold playing of accompanying figures on the violin.

Be that as it may, this recital gave much pleasure and it was particularly rewarding to hear a promising young violinist (and try to make mental comparisons with some of our own talented South African performers who have played for the Friends of Music). From a distance we will watch with interest the progress of Emmanuel Bach. He may well become a significant figure in the larger performing world in Europe and America.

Other young people took the stage as the evening`s prelude performers, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Fund. These were twelve recorder players, aged eight to eleven and taught by Sandra Breschi of Durban. In four brief items they displayed skill, enthusiasm and musicality. One of the pieces was Somewhere over the Rainbow, arranged by Sandra Breschi. Anybody remember The Wizard of Oz, nearly seventy years ago`

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)

29 July 2006 - Young Fiddlefest

Last Saturday evening was a landmark event in Durban's Musical history. The Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble made their Durban debut at the Jewish Club, under the auspices of Friends of Music. It was a night to remember for those lucky enough to have made the effort to attend (it was a good house). Directed by the eloquent and stylish Rosemary Nalden, the ensemble played with great precision and musicality. Ms Nalden has polished her protégés, and they shine brightly. The programme was a pleasing mix of Telemann (Don Quixote Suite), Mozart (Divertimento in D) and Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 3) peppered with some Gershwin and Dvo`ák and other popular numbers like Peggy Lee's "Fever", Ben King's "Stand By Me" and Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia" Smokey, sultry vocals were provided by the sassy Teboho Semela and Mathapelo Matabane. For me, the hallmark of the evening was the attention to detail, and the clarity of the playing. The sound was warm, the timing was well nigh perfect, and I could sense the enthusiasm of the players. After rounding off the evening with some Kwela, which translates incredibly well to an all-string affair, the audience gave the Ensemble a well deserved standing ovation, ensuring a number of encores, including Mama Thembu's Wedding, which had everyone clapping along! In this Ensemble, we have some exceptional players of a world class standard (they have successfully toured overseas ten times, to great critical acclaim) and we can be justifiably proud of them. A sublime and memorable evening, and kudos to Vera Dubin for making it all happen.

Courtesy of Stravos Anthias

25 July 2006 - Fiddlefest

Since she first played in Durban a couple of years ago 18-year-old Avigail Bushakovitz, who was born in Israel and now lives and studies in Cape Town, has developed into a violinist with a technique, poise and polish beyond her years.

In a Friends of Music recital at the Durban Jewish Centre she and Durban pianist Andrew Warburton presented a programme ranging from the early eighteenth century to the late twentieth, and they were rewarded with prolonged applause from a big audience.

In my view the high point of the evening was the performance of Brahms`s Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 108, a late and complex work that demonstrates many of the composer`s characteristics, big bold themes contrasted with gentle lyricism, syncopated rhythms, tenderness and a kind of rough humour. It is a formidable challenge for both performers. Avigail produced the broad, spacious violin tone that the music demands and Andrew Warburton handled the difficult piano part with expressive power.

Mozart`s Sonata in G major, K 301, a lovely two-movement work, brought forth more skilful and sympathetic playing, with the kind of luminous clarity that one associates with Mozart. Once again Andrew Warburton`s contribution was important. The piano and violin are equal partners in this kind of music.

We entered very different territory with three movements (of a total of five) from the Partita by the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, who died in 1994. The programme note referred to this as aleatoric music. Aleatory means depending on chance and at one point the composer specifically directed that `the violin and piano parts should not be coordinated in any way`. That`s how it sounded. Difficult music, and the young violinist said disarmingly from the platform: `If you find this music hard to listen to, just bear with me for eight minutes`. One member of the audience said drily afterwards that the best movements of the partita were those that were not played.

Music by Schubert and Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764) completed a programme of unusual interest.

The evening`s prelude performers, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were the Durban violinists William Chin (aged 12) and Michelle Hsu (10). Chinese in origin, solemn of mien and accomplished in technique, they are a greatly appealing pair, and they almost stole the show with their performance of a Vivaldi concerto for two violins, the orchestral part being supplied by the excellent Baroque 2000, a group of eleven experienced and dedicated players.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

20 June 2006 - Kerimov Trio

This latest recital of the Kerimov Trio, which was established six years ago, was an adventurous one, taking the Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre into territory that was in the main probably unknown to them.

The trio consists of Elena Kerimova (violin), her husband Boris Kerimov (cello), both of whom are members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, and Christopher Duigan (piano), and they have set a very high standard in their many recitals.

On this occasion their strong, confident playing helped the audience through some of the more remote regions of modern music. They opened with a piece called Dedication by G.N. Ivanov, born 1927, who is apparently one of Siberia`s leading composers (Boris Kerimov comes from that part of the world). The music was dissonant, forceful and compelling in a strange way, but I don`t think one will hear it very often.

The Mozart Trio in E major, K.542, which followed, clearly came as something of a relief to the hard-pressed audience. This has a typical stream of Mozartian melody, particularly in the lovely Andante. The playing brought out all the subtle nuances of the music.

The Estonian composer Arvo Part (born 1935) is not unknown here; last November the KZN Philharmonic played his imposing Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten. The Kerimov Trio played his arrangement of a piano Adagio by Mozart. Interesting, but I prefer Mozart plain. I was much more impressed by Arvo Part`s Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror). The composer`s intention is to produce a musical version of the visual effect of looking at a mirror with another mirror behind. The result is a beautiful long soliloquy for violin with the simplest, bell-like piano accompaniment. Elena Kerimov excelled here.

A little-known extract from a ballet by Shostakovich, arranged for cello and piano, proved lyrical and assimilable and showed Boris Kerimov at his eloquent best; and the trio`s own arrangement of a Schumann song provided a lovely romantic interlude.

The final item was the Trio in F sharp minor by the Armenian composer Arno Babajanian (1921-1983). This was rather like some of the compositions of his better-known Armenian compatriot Aram Khatchaturian, vivid and picturesque, with some catchy themes. Plenty of opportunity for display here, and Christopher Duigan in particular gave a virtuoso performance at the keyboard.

We in KwaZulu/Natal are fortunate to have musicians of this calibre in our midst.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was the bass-baritone Bulelani Madikizela, a student at the University of KZN. He is already a seasoned performer, and, accompanied by Bobbie Mills, he showed impressive vocal quality in items by Offenbach, Schumann and Gershwin.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

16 May 2006 - Lara Jones & Charlotte Stoppelenburg

This was a lovely concert at the Durban Jewish Centre. Lara Jones is one of Durban`s best-loved pianists. We all knew she would play beautifully, and so she did. The surprise was her friend Charlotte Stoppelenburg. A visitor from Holland, she displayed a mezzo-soprano voice that was quite exceptional in its innate quality and artistic projection.

These two young ladies are almost the same age, 28 and 27 this year. They are both a pleasure to look at as well as to listen to. They are both steeped in the culture of old Europe, Lara through seven years of musical study in Germany, Charlotte because she comes from a family of musicians; her father is a distinguished Dutch composer, her younger sister is a concert soprano.

Together they presented a programme of music ranging from the eleventh century to the twenty-first, starting and finishing chronologically with items sung a cappella, unaccompanied, by Charlotte. The first was a religious incantation by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a German nun who was a kind of musical mystic. This was sung off-stage in a full, rich and accurate voice, and the effect on the audience was instant and obvious. We all knew that we were hearing an unusually gifted singer.

The other unaccompanied item was an Elegy composed in 2002 by Willem Stoppelenburg, Charlotte`s father, as part of a theatre production about a symbolic conflict between prehistoric times and the modern world. The music is modern, as the singer warned us in advance, and indeed it is more a dramatic monologue than a song in the ordinary sense. Very impressive, not least in the acting ability of the singer.

For the rest of the programme we were on more familiar ground. Some of the originally planned items were omitted because the scores had inadvertently been taken back to Holland by Charlotte`s sister Josefien. The revised programme included Handel`s Ombra mai fu, one of the greatest melodies in the world, widely known as Handel`s Largo but actually a song addressed to a palm tree; a Gluck aria; dramatic and beautiful lieder by Schubert and Brahms; and four of Manuel de Falla`s Seven Popular Spanish Songs.

In all of these the piano plays an important and usually equal role; it is not a mere accompaniment. Lara`s keyboard contribution was impeccably judged, yielding to the singer when necessary, forceful at other times.

As a soloist she played two splendid but sometimes neglected works: Haydn`s Variations in F minor, and Ravel`s Sonatina. The Haydn is a poised and reflective composition and Lara played it with commanding technique and musical insight, giving due emphasis to the subtleties of harmony and counter-themes. And in the Ravel she captured the elegance and sparkle of this quintessentially French music.

The programme ended, appropriately enough, with some very grand opera, arias from Bizet`s Carmen and Saint-Saens`s Samson et Dalila.

The evening`s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Aristide du Plessis, a 16-year old cellist from Westville Boys` High School, who made a favourable impression as he played Bach, Faure and Saint-Saens.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

25 April 2006 - Bella Trio

This chamber recital at the Durban Jewish Centre covered territory that was probably unknown to almost all of the audience. It was a most enjoyable experience, thanks to the quality of the music and the quality of the performers.

The trio consists of Berthilde Dufour, violin, Alain Danghin, clarinet and Marika Hofmeyr, piano, the first two being French and the third a South African who has lived in France for the past 16 years. They are mature artists who have all won distinction in Europe. Their programme was devoted entirely to music from the twentieth century.

A tough programme, I thought before the concert: unfamiliar works by Prokofiev, Poulenc, Bartok and Khachaturian. The music, and the playing, was something of a revelation. Berthilde Dufour, a tall woman of striking appearance, is a violinist of great skill and authority; the first notes of the Prokofiev Sonata No 2 in D major proclaimed this clearly. The clarinettist, Alain Danghin, has a style that is almost flamboyant; he not only plays his instrument but he brandishes it, rather in the manner of a jazz musician. The pianist, Marika Hofmeyr, seems less aggressive in personality, but she played with great skill and sensitivity and shouldered, in performance terms, the heaviest burden of all, playing in all four items on the programme.

The Prokofiev sonata, dating from 1944, is a splendid work, bold and brilliant, with some of those grotesque touches that are so typical of this composer. This was followed by the Sonata for clarinet and piano by the French composer Francis Poulenc, written in 1962, a year before his death. Alain Danghin plays the clarinet with great vigour and conviction, and with tenderness too. The music was delightful, quintessentially French, especially the slow movement, Romanza. Incidentally, the programme note described the sonata as homophonic. This is not to be confused with homophobic; it means sounding the same or, in musical terminology, similar parts for the instruments.

The three-movement Contrasts for piano, violin and clarinet is a 1938 work by Bela Bartok, commissioned by the famous violinist Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman, the best-known clarinettist of all time. In typical Bartok manner it explores the far reaches of Hungarian folk music, with many strange dissonances and angular rhythms.

The final item was the Trio in G minor for clarinet, violin and piano written in 1932 by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Khachaturian is not my favourite composer --- I find much of his music rather superficial and flashy --- but this trio is a fine work, brilliantly scored and easy on the ear, especially in the last movement, a set of variations on a folk tune.

This was an outstanding concert, and it drew enthusiastic applause from the audience.

The evening`s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery, was Brett Alborough from Kearsney College. Playing the recorder, he showed himself to be a skilful and poised performer in a well-judged short programme of music by Vivaldi, York Bowen and Rimsky-Korsakov, finishing with the latter`s well-known bumble bee.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

28 March 2006 - Aglika Genova & Liuben Dimitrov - Piano Duet

This recital, at the Durban Jewish Centre, of music for four hands at one piano provided an evening of rare distinction and pleasure, an occasion for the connoisseur.

Aglika Genova (she) and Liuben Dimitrov (he) were born in Bulgaria and are of Greek origin. They met about ten years ago when they were both due to compete in a solo competition and found that there was only one practice room available. It had two pianos, however, and they warmed up by playing a Chopin etude together. `We thought we had sprouted wings`, Aglika Genova says today.

It was a fortunate experiment. They have developed into a duo partnership of the first rank, playing either on two instruments or on one. This Durban recital was at one piano. There is a considerable repertory of four-handed music at one keyboard, and these two pianists delivered a programme of works that were probably unknown to most of the audience and were of unflagging interest and artistic value.

The most serious was the opening item, Brahms`s Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 23, a kind of memorial to a composer whom Brahms greatly admired. Schumann wrote the original theme, and some variations, in 1854, at the time of his voluntary departure for the mental home where he died two years later. It is Schumann`s last work, and although it has been severely criticised by some commentators I find it almost unbearably poignant. Brahms`s version is a splendid set of ten variations which give the duo pianists plenty of opportunity to display their skills and insights. Genova and Dimitrov gave a dramatic account of this music and earned the first of several ovations during the evening.

Rachmaninov`s Six Pieces, Op. 11 were in generally lighter vein and included a glittering waltz and an imposing Russian theme rather reminiscent of the Volga Boatmen song.

A work hitherto unknown to me was a delightful set of twelve pieces by Georges Bizet (1939-1875), the composer of Carmen. The set is called Jeux d`Enfants, Children`s Games. The music is an outstanding example of French charm, imagination and ingenuity. You wouldn`t have thought it possible to describe Soap Bubbles or Leapfrog in music, but Bizet has done it. Again, a lovely performance from the pianists.

The programme ended with Ravel`s Rapsodie Espagnole, which is very well known in its orchestral guise but was apparently written in the first place for duo pianists. The music is brilliant, picturesque and evocative, and the pianists brought it off with great panache.

In response to prolonged applause there was an encore, Shostakovich`s polka from his Jazz Suite No. 1.

The Prelude Performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were Thuli Zama (singer) and Ian Francis (pianist), both third year B.Mus students at the University of KwaZulu/Natal. They provided some jazz and pop music. A slightly bemused audience discovered how far the study of music has progressed at the university since the dreary old days when students had to devote their time to Bach and Mozart and Beethoven.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

14 March 2006 - Craig Ogden & Alison Stephens

An audience rather different from the usual supporters of the Friends of Music attended this recital in the Durban Jewish Centre; the mandolin lovers of Durban, maybe` They were given an evening of music that was well off the beaten track, both in respect of the instruments involved and the music played.

The performers were Craig Ogden, an Australian guitarist, and Alison Stephens, a mandolin player from England, both young and both highly accomplished. Their instruments go well back into musical history; I tend to associate the mandolin with the songs that Shakespeare sometimes inserted into his plays, and among those who liked playing the guitar were Niccolo Paganini and, improbably enough, Franz Schubert.

The two instruments are quite different in tone, the guitar rather stronger and the mandolin more brilliant with a kind of ringing quality. In a programme ranging from the early eighteenth century to the late twentieth the two players displayed a wide variety of sounds and techniques, sometimes in partnership, sometimes as soloists.

The best-known work was Vivaldi`s Concerto in C, RV 425, which has apparently achieved some popularity through being played on the radio. It is an attractive three-movement work In this performance the original part for string orchestra was transcribed for solo guitar; not an entirely satisfactory substitution but better to hear it this way than not at all.

Similarly, a movement from Hummel`s Concerto in G was performed with guitar instead of orchestra. Johann Hummel (1778-1837) was a prolific composer who in his lifetime was compared favourably with Beethoven and then fell into the ranks of mediocrity, being remembered mainly for a celebrated Rondo Favori for piano. Now, however, there seems to be a revival of interest in his music. This movement, a set of variations for the mandolin on an elegant theme, is certainly easy on the ear.

The other eight items on the programme covered virtually unknown but consistently interesting territory. They included a work by a contemporary Mexican composer, Eduardo Angulo, in which use is made of two contrasting themes, a lullaby and a vigorous dance. Introducing this piece, Alison Stephens pointed out that the Mexican composer had written it for a German mandolin and guitar duo, and that it was being played here in South Africa by an Australian and an Englishwoman. A multinational business.

Not least significant on the programme was a work composed by Alison Stephens herself, a poignant yet brilliant piece which amply demonstrated the effects obtained by rapid arpeggios on the mandolin.

The evening`s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery, was yet another gifted young musician of oriental origin, Tsu-Shiuan, a 14-year-old pianist who is a pupil at Crawford North Coast. Playing Debussy and Bartok he showed that, technically and interpretatively, he was well ahead of the level of most prelude performers.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

25 February 2006 - Marc Uys & Sontonga Quartet

The Sontonga Quartet, named after Enoch Sontonga, who wrote the music of Nkosi Sikelel` iAfrika, and three soloists provided a Mozart evening of outstanding quality at this Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre.

A large audience, about 150 people, were treated to two of the composer`s piano concertos and his clarinet quintet. It was essentially a chamber concert, and I suppose a purist might demur at the inclusion of two piano concertos, which the composer scored for many more string players, plus horns and oboes. But Mozart did mark the parts for the wind instruments ad libitum, which seems to suggest that the concertos could be played on a smaller scale and in smaller surroundings than a concert hall.

I found the reduction from orchestra to string quartet perfectly acceptable, except in some passages where the piano outweighed the string tone, in spite of the pianist being placed (on the platform} behind the strings instead of in front. The point is that the audience were given expert performances of the concertos in a situation in which an orchestra could not be accommodated physically or financially. And everybody greatly enjoyed the experience.

The string players were Marc Uys and Waldo Alexander (violins), Xandi van Dijk (viola) and Eddie McLean (cello). Jonathan Oshry, one of our best pianists, was the soloist in the Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, not a well-known work but one that is full of melody, grace and vigour. The pianist adopted quite a bold approach, I thought, to this music, playing with a brilliant tone and absolutely clear articulation in the rapid passages. A most enjoyable performance.

Another distinguished local pianist, Andrew Warburton, was the soloist in the Concerto No. 14 in E flat major, K. 449, a rather better known work with a delightful final movement in which Mozart shows very deftly that counterpoint need not always be serious and solemn. Again, the rapport between soloist and strings was first-rate.

Ian Holloway, principal clarinettist with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, was the soloist in the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, a work which amply demonstrates Mozart`s special affinity for the clarinet. A fine performance of a gentle and beautiful composition, written in 1789, two years before Mozart`s death at the age of 36.

The evening`s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was Fae Evelyn, a second year music student at the University of KwaZulu/Natal. Singing Handel, Grieg and Mozart, she displayed a sweet and true soprano voice.

This concert was dedicated to the memory of Roseline Shapiro, who died last week and who was for many years a prominent and highly respected supporter of music in Durban.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

14 February 2006 - Jan Gottlieb Jiracek

As his name suggests, Jan Gottlieb Jiracek is of German-Slovakian origins, and he treated the Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre to a piano recital of staggering virtuosity and authentic musical insight.

He is 32 years old, is now based in Vienna, and has an imposing curriculum vitae, including a testimonial from the master pianist Van Cliburn. All the compliments are fully justified. In a programme ranging from Bach to Liszt he demonstrated not only a brilliant keyboard technique but also impeccable musical judgment, plus an ability to engage the audience by way of informal comments on the music.

This kind of audience involvement is an excellent idea, and I am surprised the more soloists do not do it, but then perhaps they are not all as articulate at Mr Jiracek. His remarks on Bach`s Chorale Prelude in F minor, transcribed by Busoni, a 1788 Haydn sonata, and Liszt`s Ballade in B minor were all very much to the point. The first notes of the Bach, poised and controlled, showed that we were listening to an unusually gifted performer. The Haydn was a model of crystal clarity in the rapid passages, and the Liszt provided full scope for the pianist`s remarkable technical prowess: thundering octaves, surging left-hand passages (to suggest the stormy seas of the Hellespont (in modern Turkey), through which Leander swam to visit his lover Hero) and, towards the end, the impassioned lower register melody, Liszt`s version of true love.

Schumann`s Fantasie in C major Op. 17, one of the supreme romantic compositions of the nineteenth century, completed the programme. Written when the composer was 27 years old and deeply in love with his future wife Clara (a love that was frustrated at the time by her father`s objections), this three-movement work is one of Schumann`s finest compositions. Jan Gottlieb Jiracek captured admirably the passionate and rather mysterious quality of the opening Allegro, the vigour and brilliance of the second movement, and the poignant chordal progressions of the final Andante, aptly described by the pianist as `crying out for Clara`.

For an encore, his comment was: `If music be the food of more appropriate music for Valentine`s Day than Liszt`s Liebestraum`` (love`s dream), and this was followed by a very superior performance of this very familiar piece. And then a little playful Mozart brought this memorable recital to an end.

The evening`s Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery, was the Durban baritone Bulelani Madikizela, who studies with Colleen Philp. Accompanied by Andrew Warburton, he sang Gershwin, Verdi and Mozart and displayed a big, powerful voice with a fine sense of drama and emotion. He is already quite an experienced singer, and in time he will no doubt go much further.

Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

7 February 2006 - Sylvia Jen

The Friends of Music opened their 2006 series with a piano recital by Sylvia Jen, held as usual at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Sylvia Jen was born in Taiwan but has lived in South Africa for a long time. Judging by the fact that she matriculated in 2003 she must be about 19 or 20 but she looks much younger. And, like many young musicians from the East, she obviously has exceptional talent.

Nevertheless, there is still some distance for her to go. Her programme, ranging from the early seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth, covered a wide range of technical and interpretative problems, and the response of the pianist was, perhaps predictably, variable. She was at her best in the two Scarlatti sonatas which opened the programme, showing crisp, clear fingerwork and a fine sense of style and poise.

Domenico Scarlatti is, I think, a somewhat underrated master; his keyboard music (written originally for the harpsichord) is bold, tuneful, dramatic, poignant, and often startlingly modern. These qualities were admirably conveyed by the young pianist and might well have been an eye-opener for some members of the audience.

Mozart`s Sonata in C major KV 330 was another success for the performer, who again displayed an accomplished technique and a good grasp of style and form.

Liszt`s Petrarch Sonnet No 123, the third and best of the composer`s visions of three poems by Petrarch, was given a somewhat wayward performance, but Sylvia Jen did capture admirably the beautiful final phrases which match exactly the spirit of this fourteenth century Italian poetry:

And heaven unto the music so inclined,
That not a leaf was seen to stir the shade,
Such melody had fraught the winds, the atmosphere.

Two Chopin works followed: the Nocturne in B major, Op. 62 No. 1, the essential fluidity of the piece rather marred by exaggerated `effects`, and the Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op 60, a big, romantic composition that poses many technical and interpretative problems, not all of them solved satisfactorily in this performance.

In striking contrast, the three Argentine Dances Op 2 by Alberto Ginastera provided some of the best playing of the evening. Here Sylvia Jen gave an entirely convincing performance in the driving rhythms of the first and third pieces and the melancholy and beautiful introspections of the second.

The Prelude Performer, funded by the National Lottery, was Sarah Pudifin, a young violinist who has become well known in Durban and who plays as an extra with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. In a 15-minute programme of familiar works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Brahms she played with skill and confidence, and her stage presence was elegant and unaffected.

Michael Green (Courtesy of artSMart)