Friends of Music Recitals 2009


3 November - Ben Schoeman (piano)

The South African pianist Ben Schoeman presented an enormously taxing programme in this recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre, and showed in the process that he is a true virtuoso.

He is, I estimate, in his early thirties, though he looks younger. He is now studying in Italy. We have heard him several time in the past and we knew he was a very good pianist, but I do not recall his playing music quite as technically challenging as the works on this programme.

And he is not simply a technician of the keyboard. His playing is always sympathetic and thoughtful, his technical prowess placed at the service of the music itself.

He opened with Beethoven’s Sonata in A major, Op. 2, No. 2. Beethoven’s early sonatas are not played very often in public, which is a pity. They are beautiful, graceful and brilliant, a reminder that the composer himself was a supreme pianist. Ben Schoeman took this sonata at high speed but was nevertheless able to give due emphasis to the composer’s many felicitous touches of melody, harmony and rhythm. In general his performance captured the joie de vivre of this work.

He followed with Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme of Corelli. This is one of Rachmaninov’s lesser known compositions, and its title is a misnomer. The theme is the famous Portuguese folk melody La Folia, which Corelli (in common with many other composers) adapted for his own use.

It lends itself well to variation treatment, and Rachmaninov’s 20 variations are typical of his piano style: brilliant, romantic, solemn, sentimental, melancholy. Ben Schoeman presented them with great power and conviction.

Then came another relatively little-known work, Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op.35, No. 1. This is a kind of tribute to Bach (Mendelssohn was largely responsible for the nineteenth century revival of interest in Bach) but, as the programme note sagely observed, nobody could possibly mistake it for the music of Bach. The prelude is romantic and vigorous, the fugue is skillfully laid out, builds up to a big climax and ends quietly. An interesting and enjoyable work.

Finally, we were given Liszt’s massive and exceptionally difficult Sonata in B minor. This produced a thrilling display of pianism. At times the player’s hands were a blur as he delivered Liszt’s rapid double octaves.

The quiet moments of the sonata (the best moments, in my opinion) elicited some beautiful cantabile playing from Ben Schoeman. At the end the audience gave him a well-deserved ovation.

The evening’s prelude performers, funded by the National Lottery, were two sisters from Japan who have been in South Africa for less than year and are pupils at Crawford College, La Lucia. One of them, six-year-old Emiri Nishii, must be the youngest and smallest prelude performer ever to grace a Friends of Music concert. With her 11-year-old sister, Erina Nishii, she played a delightful piece by Mozart called “Pantomime” and then gave a brave and competent solo account of Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, accompanied on the piano by Carol Stranax.

Erina, five years older, is obviously a better player at this stage. She played as a solo the main theme from the film Schindler’s List.

These two children were eloquent evidence of what talent and hard work can achieve. We will watch their progress with interest.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


13 October - Stanko Madic (violin) and Pieter Jacobs (piano)

This concert in the Durban Jewish Centre was one for the connoisseurs, outstanding playing in a programme of unusual interest.

It is a pity that it was not better attended. The opening Chaconne alone was worth a visit to the Jewish Centre. This is a famous composition for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the items in Bach’s second partita for violin, the partita being a suite of pieces. The chaconne is traditionally a stately dance, and this one is a fine and noble work in which Bach shows what magic he can conjure from one violin, without benefit of any accompaniment of any kind.

Stanko Madic is a 24-year-old violinist from Serbia, in the Balkans, between Hungary and Greece, and he gave a commanding performance of this exceptionally difficult work, which was written in 1720. After nearly 300 years it is as vigorous and challenging as ever, a marvel of intellectual power and ingenuity. Stanko Madic played brilliantly, producing a full-blooded tone and bringing out with great skill the various voices in the rich texture of Bach’s counterpoint.

For the rest of the evening he was joined by one of South Africa’s best pianists, Pieter Jacobs, who has wide experience in playing chamber music. Robert Schumann’s Sonata in A minor for violin and piano, Op. 105, is not a well-known work but it has plenty to commend it. The writing for both instruments is tuneful, vivid and expressive. The sonata was written only two or three years before Schumann’s final mental breakdown that led to his death in an institution in 1856, aged 46, and there are moments of agitation and anxiety in its outer movements. But I don’t think the sonata as a whole gives much indication of the tragedy that lay ahead, and the second movement is unassuming, whimsical and delightful. Both players presented the music in totally convincing fashion.

After the interval came Brahms’s Sonata for piano and violin in D minor, Op. 108. This is the third of Brahms’s three sonatas for violin and piano. It is the least known, but it is a fine work, typical of Brahms, with its big, broad themes, rhythmic emphasis and general air of strong emotions. The slow movement in particular shows the master at his most eloquent and expressive.

Here the pianist, Pieter Jacobs, was heard in a rather more assertive role, and he excelled in carrying out the demands made on him. Stanko Madic played, as he had done earlier, with a maturity and poise that were remarkable in one so young. Another outstanding performance.

The duo ended their concert in lighter vein with a se of variations by the Polish composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), glittering and attractive.

The evening’s prelude performers, funded by the National Lottery, were Amazwi Amyoli, four singers whose main aim is to bring western classical music to black communities in South Africa. The singers are Edward Phiri (baritone), Wayne Mkhize (tenor), Mthunzi Nokubeka (baritone) and Lukhanyo Moyake (tenor), and they gave much pleasure in performing three items, including a song by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Funiculi Funicula, which many members of the audience had probably not heard for a long time.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


6 October - Jonathan Oshry (piano)

A large audience turned up at the Durban Jewish Centre for this piano recital by Durban-born Jonathan Oshry, the home town boy who is now, at the age of 34, a fully fledged virtuoso based in London.

They were not disappointed. In an unusual and attractive programme Jonathan Oshry displayed great skills, combining a formidable keyboard technique with a mature insight into the quality of the music itself.

This was especially apparent in the Schubert Sonata in B flat Major, D 960. This is a long work, about 40 minutes, and it occupied the entire first half of the programme. It is a late composition --- the term “late” is relative, Schubert was only 31 when he died --- and a beautiful one.

Jonathan played it with loving care and attention, bringing out all the subtleties in Schubert’s score, with delicate shading and dynamics in the many shifts of harmony and key. Perhaps his finest playing was in the Andante, a melody floating in space.

It was a rewarding experience to listen to this great sonata. The programme note said, correctly, that Schubert’s piano sonatas were long neglected but that the last three are now recognised as masterpieces. I would go further. Schubert wrote about 20 sonatas (some of them unfinished), and at least ten of them are splendid works worthy of performance in the concert hall but, alas, rarely played. Perhaps Jonathan Oshry’s performance of this one will stimulate interest in the others. They are of course available on CDs.

The second half of the programme was devoted to Chopin’s four Scherzi, not often played as a group. These are as taxing as anything in the virtuoso repertory, and Jonathan Oshry took the first in particular at a fast and furious pace (as the composer directed). And he extracted full lyrical value from the slow middle section, a theme which is based on a Polish song and which provides some of the loveliest moments in all of Chopin.

The second scherzo has another beautiful melody, and the third has an almost choral-like subject, with fierce octave passages on either side. The fourth, the least known, is elegant and graceful. Jonathan Oshry captured all these different moods with understanding and with complete technical control.

For an encore he presented another alarmingly difficult piece, Liszt’s Transcendental Etude which is titled Feux follets, Will o’ the Wisp. A wonderful, shimmering demonstration of rapid playing of thirds, fourths, sixths and various other technical problems.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was Keziah Peel, a 16-year-old pupil at Durban Girls’ College, who played the saxophone in a work by, of all composers, J.S. Bach. Johann Sebastian died in 1750 and the saxophone was invented by the Belgian Adolphe Sax in 1842. This was an arrangement of two movements of a Bach sonata for violin (or flute) and piano, and it worked rather well, I thought, with Jacques Heyns at the piano.
Her second item was the first movement of a 1992 “Blues Concerto” by Bill Holcombe, an American composer. The title of this work speaks for itself, and the music proved to be interesting and entertaining. The young saxophonist played it with zest and style.

Incidentally, Keziah’s unusual first name comes from the Old Testament, Keziah being one of the daughters of the long-suffering Job. I have this information from the best possible source: her mother.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


22 September - Jan Hugo (piano)

Jan Hugo is an 18-year-old pianist who was born in Bloemfontein and is now living and studying in Modena, Italy. This solo recital for the Friends of Music, at the Durban Jewish Centre, was a spectacular success.

From the first notes of the Scarlatti sonata (K. 212) with which he opened it was clear that he has a keyboard technique of a superior order. What emerged further, as the programme progressed, was a musical insight astonishingly mature in one so young.

Jan Hugo is a tall, slender young man, poised and unaffected at the keyboard. His choice of programme, a list of consistently fine works that are not played too often, indicated taste and judgment as well as high skills.

The Scarlatti he chose was one of the lesser-known of the roughly 550 sonatas written by this eighteenth century master and it was typically bold and advanced for its time.

Beethoven’s Les Adieux sonata, Op. 81a, followed, giving the performer the opportunity to show his grasp of the form of a large work. I thought his best playing was in the beautiful Adagio, in which he conveyed just the right degree of restrained melancholy.

Three pieces from Ravel’s Miroirs suite gave the young virtuoso the opportunity to show his remarkable abilities, especially in the forbiddingly difficult Alborada del gracioso, a sort of Spanish rhapsody a la Ravel. The programme notes, which seemed to have been extracted from the Internet, were unusually informative, and the Ravel entry referred to a cascade of notes being played at more than 20 consecutive notes per second. Can this be true? I doubt it. Anyway, Jan Hugo’s presentation was breathtakingly fast and brilliant.

Two of Liszt’s Petrarch sonnets gave more pleasure to the listeners. These pieces were written in the eighteen thirties when Liszt was travelling in Switzerland and Italy with his mistress, fathering three illegitimate children in the process. Typically, he called them Années de Pelerinage, Years of Pilgrimage. As a whole they are among his best piano works, and the Petrarch sonnets are particularly beautiful. A slight pity that the pianist omitted the third, the best of the three. But the two he did play provided some of the best moments of the evening.

Cesar Franck’s imposing Prelude, Chorale and Fugue brought a taxing programme to an end. Jan Hugo played Franck’s rather dense score with clarity and resonance and brought to the whole work a pianistic brilliance not often associated with Franck’s music.

The performer entirely deserved the ovation he was given at the end by a delighted audience.

The evening’s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was Brett Alborough, a third-year music student at UKZN. He plays the clarinet, recorder, piano and saxophone. On this occasion he played the recorder in a sonata by Francesco Barsanti, an Italian who spend most of his life (eighteenth century) in Britain, and the well-known Czardas written about a hundred years ago by another Italian, Vittorio Monte. He displayed a pure tone and deft fingerwork, and he was sympathetically accompanied at the piano by Jacques Heyns.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


8 September - Evgenia Grekova (soprano) and Irina Puryshinskaja (piano)

Two young Russians provided an evening of rare pleasure in a programme of lieder for the Friends of Music, given at the Durban Jewish centre.

Evgenia Grekova has a splendid and admirably disciplined soprano voice that is capable of great power and also of great delicacy. Irina Puryshinskaja is a pianist of high skills and impeccable taste, always serving the demands of the music and the role of her partner.

These two dedicated musicians presented 22 songs by Richard Strauss, Schubert, Rachmaninov and Leonard Bernstein, and they covered a wide range of moods and emotions.

I would guess that about one-third of the programme was familiar to most of the listeners, and some of the other items must have come as something of a revelation to them. In fact the choice of songs was further evidence of the good judgment of the performers.

They opened with six songs by Richard Strauss, one of the last of the great romantics. Evgenia studied for a time with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and her delivery often reminded me of that great German soprano of yesteryear. Irina showed the audience at once how accomplished a pianist she is, and no doubt she was assisted by having at her command the resonant Kawai grand piano acquired recently by the Friends of Music.

The last item in this group was Strauss’s most famous song, Morgen, Tomorrow the sun will shine, and here the performers cast a spell over the audience with their vocal purity of tone and poise at the keyboard, the pianist playing the part usually assigned to an orchestra.

This was followed by five rather mystifying songs by Leonard Bernstein, called collectlvely I Hate Music. Apparently they are intended to reflect, in humorous fashion, the perceptions of a child. Written 60 years ago but new to me, they were not, I thought, particularly attractive, but they were certainly well sung.
Franz Schubert, the matchless composer of lieder, was represented by five songs, the best known of these being To be Sung on the water and Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel. Again the performers successfully interpreted a wide range of moods, from the intense drama of Gretchen, her peace of mind gone, to the meditative calm of Nacht und Traume, Night and dreams.

Finally, the singer and pianist turned to their celebrated compatriot Sergei Rachmaninov. I have the feeling that Rachmaninov’s songs are not as well known as they deserve to be. I have known some of them for many years, and the best are in the front rank in the repertory of song. The audience obviously enjoyed the pensive Before My Window, the exquisite Lilacs and the exuberant Spring Waters, with the pianist contributing just the right touch of virtuosity in the accompaniment.

The evening’s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was yet another gifted young violinist of eastern origins, 14-year-old Yea Kyung Kim, a pupil at Durban Girls’ College. Accompanied by David Smith, she displayed a full tone and considerable technical skill in items by Wieniawski and Schubert.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


25 August - Bruno Meier (flute), Nicolas Corti (viola), Han Jonkers (guitar)

It takes a bold trio to present a programme of chamber music by Joseph Kreutzer, Heinrich Neumann, Willy Burkhard, Rudolf Kelterborn and Anton Diabelli.

Never heard of them? Neither had I, except for Diabelli, and he is remembered today only because he wrote a waltz tune from which Beethoven fashioned 33 magnificent variations for piano. But this was the programme which a visiting trio from Switzerland gave to the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Rather to my surprise, it attracted a substantial audience, and they were rewarded with some outstanding playing of compositions that also turned out to be a pleasant surprise; most of them, anyway.

If the programme was unusual so were the trio themselves, a combination of flute (Bruno Meier), guitar (Han Jonkers) and viola (Nicolas Corti). They all come from Switzerland, although Han Jonkers was born in Holland. Their visit to South Africa and Namibia has been sponsored by a Swiss arts council, hence the inclusion on their programme of two twentieth century Swiss composers. The rest of the programme came from the early nineteenth century.

They opened with a very melodious and pleasant three-movement trio by Joseph Kreutzer (German, 1790-1840). He is not the man to whom Beethoven dedicated his famous Kreutzer sonata; that was Rodolphe Kreutzer, a celebrated violinist.

Joseph Kreutzer’s trio was elegant and stylish, and beautifully played. The composer gave most of the melodic lines to the viola and flute, with the guitar providing harmony and tonal contrast. I thought the combination worked very well, with the guitar sounding at times rather like a harpsichord. Most enjoyable.

Another German, Heinrich Neumann (1792-1861), provided the next item, a two-movement Serenade for viola and guitar. This, too, was very easy on the ear, with an admirable understanding between the two players and some virtuoso playing by the violist, Nicolas Corti, who produced a lovely rich tone throughout the evening.

This was followed by another, very different, Serenade, this one for flute and guitar, written in 1935 by the Swiss composer Willy Burkhard (1900-1950). The music opened with a rather Latin, South American flavour but soon moved into a modern idiom with many dissonances. The composer has deftly contrasted the two instruments, the flute playing far-ranging melodic phrases over a kind of arpeggio accompaniment from the guitar. Not ingratiating music, but not unattractive either. Most members of the audience seemed to find it interesting.

After the interval came Six Short Pieces for flute, viola and guitar by Rudolf Kelterborn, who was born in Switzerland in 1931 and still lives there. I suspect that for most listeners these short pieces were not short enough. Written in 1984, this is really sound effects music which seems almost experimental and offers little in the way of melody or rhythm.

Finally, we were given a four-movement trio for flute, viola and guitar by Anton Diabelli (1781-1858), who was born and died in Austria. His real surname was Damon, which means demon, and his father, a church musician, wisely decided to change it.
This work turned out to be pleasant music of no particular significance, the best part being the contrapuntal third movement.

The players were given prolonged applause at the end of the evening and they deserved it; all three are exceptional performers.

The evening’s prelude performers, funded by the National Lottery, were the quaintly named Dr Fly and the Nurses, three young students who have modelled their act on the Andrews Sisters of long ago. The singers were Sophia Basckin, Amy Saville and Jessica Sole, and their close harmony and animated presentation took us back a generation or two with items such as In the Mood (Glenn Miller, 1939) and I Love the Java Jive (the Ink Spots, 1940). Delightful.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


16 June - Avigail Bushakevitz (violin) and Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell (violin)

Youth and beauty and lovely music were the themes of this outstanding concert given for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The two violinists and two pianists were all young people and all accomplished artists, and they chose a programme of high-quality music.

At the Friends of Music we have seen and heard Avigail Bushakevitz over the years. She was born in Israel, grew up at George in the south-western Cape and is now, at the age of 21, a third-year-student at the Juilliard School in New York. She is no longer an interesting and promising child musician. She is a mature and accomplished artist, a graceful young woman who is as easy on the eye as she is on the ear.

Partnered at the piano by her brother Ammiel Bushakevitz, who is much the same age, she gave an excellent performance of Beethoven’s first Violin Sonata, Op. 12, No. 1. I deliberately use the word “partnered” rather than “accompanied” because the two instruments play a virtually equal role in the Beethoven sonatas. The early sonatas are wonderful works, tuneful, stylish, often brilliant, and this one in D major gave both players the opportunity to shine. This they did, with Avigail confident and poised and displaying an admirably full tone.

Both players showed a good judgment of dynamics and contrast, especially in the second movement, a short set of variations with exquisite tonal balance.

They followed with Ernest Chausson’s Poeme for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 25, written in1896. I am never very happy when orchestral scores are transposed for the piano, but Ammiel handled his part very well, with the right degrees of emphasis and restraint.
The violin part is difficult, with long ruminative solo passages and plenty of double stopping and other embellishments. Avigail played it all with power and eloquence. A memorable account of a romantic late nineteenth century work that one does not hear very often.

After the interval the Durban violinist Jacqueline Wedderburn-Maxwell took the stage, with Liezl-Maret Jacobs, head of the piano department at the University of KwaZulu/Natal. Jacqueline is 16 years old, Liezl-Maret older but still a young person. And both are very good-looking and poised musicians.

Like Avigail Bushakevitz, Jacqueline has played many times in Durban and we have watched her development with interest. Avigail is five years older, and I do not wish to compare the two as violinists. Suffice it to say that Jacqueline is now a highly accomplished performer (she will shortly be studying in London at the Guildhall School of Music) and she showed impressive technique and interpretative insight in three widely varied items.

She opened with the first two movements of Schubert’s Grand Duo Sonata in A major, a typically melodious and inventive work by this great composer, and then demonstrated her technical prowess in Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, a showpiece based on melodies from Bizet’s opera.

Of greater musical substance were the third and fourth movements from the Sonata in A major by the Belgian/French composer Cesar Franck. Written in 1886, this is Franck’s best work, and it was very well played, with Liezl-Maret Jacobs in splendid form at the keyboard.

Finally the violinists joined forces in a Bach concerto.
Both these distinguished and home-bred young artists will now spend some years studying and working abroad. Will they return to South Africa to pursue their careers here? We shall see.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were a group of six brass players and two drummers from an organisation called Field Bands. They went to work with gusto and were particularly good in what seemed to be an item of township jazz.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)



9 June - Liesl Stoltz (flute), Albie van Schalkwyk (piano) and Anmari van der Westhuizen (cello)

A programme of mainly modern and mainly unfamiliar chamber music did not, predictably enough, draw a huge audience to the Durban Jewish Centre for this Friends of Music concert, but those who attended were rewarded with some excellent playing in an interesting selection of works.

The three players were all experienced performers with distinguished records in the grove of Academe and in the concert hall. They were Liesl Stoltz, who plays the flute and teaches at the University of Cape Town and who over the past decade has performed with distinction in South Africa and Europe; Albie van Schalkwyk, a pianist who over the past 30 years has specialised in chamber music and who is now a professor at UCT, after a long time at the University of the Free State; and Anmari van der Westhuizen, a cellist who is a Stellenbosch University graduate, made her overseas debut in 1990 in Salzburg, lived in Austria for eight years, and now teaches at the University of the Free State.

The programme opened with Prokofiev’s Sonata for flute and piano, Op. 94, first performed in 1943 in Moscow and later transcribed by the composer for violin and piano. The sonata was written at a bad time for Russia --- Hitler’s armies had invaded the country --- but it is vigorous and positive, with plenty of melodic appeal. You wouldn’t go home whistling the tunes, but they are there, especially for the flute. There are also plenty of dissonances, but the music as a whole is accessible to the listener.

The playing was excellent. Liesl Stoltz is a brilliant and accurate flautist and at the piano Albie van Schalkwyk was a model of skill and discretion. It would be easy for the keyboard player to overpower the flute, but this he never did. A subtle and delightful performance.

The same sense of ensemble and understanding was clear in Weber’s Trio for flute, piano and cello, Op. 63. Carl Maria von Weber, who died of tuberculosis in 1826 at the age of 39, wrote much attractive music, and this trio is a good example of the German romantic style of two hundred years ago. Anmari van der Westhuizen joined the pianist and the flautist, and her cello contributed a splendidly rich dimension to the entire work. She is an artist of the first rank and this music seemed particularly well suited to her broad, resonant tone, especially in the lower register.

The programme was completed with Debussy’s 12-minute Sonata for cello and piano, written in 1915 when the composer was dying of cancer and was greatly depressed by the first world war; and the Trio for flute, cello and piano by Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959), the prolific Czech composer (about 400 works) who lived in the United States for many years and wrote this trio there in 1944.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was yet another gifted violinist with eastern origins, 14-year-old Yea Kyung Kim, a pupil at Durban Girls’ College. Accompanied at the piano by David Smith, she played two lovely violin arrangements by Fritz Kreisler: the delectable (and long and taxing) Rondo from Mozart’s Haffner Serenade and the beautiful and much-admired Melodie from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice.

This young violinist has a skill beyond her years, and it is easy to understand why her teacher, Isaac Melamed, has a high opinion of her.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)

19 May - Kerimov Trio

Friends of Music Society - Kerimov Trio

Standing in at short notice for a pianist who had cancelled, the Kerimov Trio provided an evening of highly enjoyable chamber music for the Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The trio consists of Elena Kerimova (violin), her husband Boris Kerimov (cello), both of them prominent members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, and Christopher Duigan of Pietermaritzburg (piano), who has been a busy concert pianist for nearly 20 years.
They formed their trio nine years ago, and their close understanding is apparent in everything they play. For this programme they chose two major works and a variety of attractive fairly short pieces.

The main substance was provided by Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart wrote about 20 trios for piano, violin and cello and the one played here, K. 548 in C major, written in 1788, is not, I think, very widely known. It is delightful, with many glimpses of how advanced a composer Mozart was for his time, or indeed for any time. The first movement is bold, the second eloquent and expressive, and the third tuneful and brilliant.

The performance was outstanding. Boris and Elena are highly accomplished string players, and Christopher Duigan extracted a full tone from the Friends’ elderly piano.
The concert ended with Beethoven’s Trio in E flat major, the second number in Op. 70 and as good, in my opinion, as the much better known No. 1, the “Ghost Trio”. This splendid music has a rich and varied texture, and provides constant thematic and rhythmic interest in its four movements. The playing was excellent, though I would have preferred a somewhat more deliberate tempo in the opening Allegro ma non troppo. The suave, flowing third movement and the vivacious finale were delivered with insight and panache.

The smaller pieces included three Ave Marias, enough Hail Marys to keep a monk happy. Two were arrangements by the Kerimov Trio: the Gounod Ave Maria (itself a rather syrupy adornment of the first prelude in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier) and the well-known Schubert song.

The third Ave Maria was the one attributed to Giulio Cacchini, the sixteenth century Italian composer. This music had a late rush of popularity about 20 years ago. It doesn’t sound sixteenth century, and it is now believed that the actual composer was a Russian musical hoaxter named Vladimir Vavilov, who wrote the piece in 1970. All very odd, but the music is attractive and not particularly pious, and it was played with enthusiasm and affection.

A similar story is attached to the famous Adagio in G minor attributed to Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750), “Albinoni’s Adagio”. Albinoni was a Venetian baroque composer who wrote more than 50 operas, and it was long thought that this piece (usually played by organ, violin and strings) was rescued from the ruins of Dresden after the Second World War and was arranged by the Italian composer Remo Giazotto (1910-1998). It is now believed that there was no discovery in the ruins and that Giazotto wrote the piece himself. Why he didn’t take the credit is anybody’s guess. Never mind, the music does have a baroque flavour, it is elegant and dignified, and it was well played on this occasion.

The concert programme was completed with a typical toe-tapping, catchy composition called Escolaso by the Argentine Astor Piazzolla, the king of the tango, and Max Bruch’s celebrated Kol Nidrei, a Protestant composer’s tribute to Jewish religious ritual.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


7 April -Emmanuel Bach - violin & Jenny Stern - piano

Friends of Music Society - Jenny Stern and Emmanuel Bach

The English mother and son duo of Jenny Stern (piano) and Emmanuel Bach (violin) are well known in Durban because of their concert appearances here and because Jenny Stern comes from this part of the world and is a graduate of the University of Natal.
Predictably, there was a good-sized audience for this recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. The listeners were not disappointed. In a programme ranging from Mozart to Stravinsky both players showed that they are technically accomplished and artistically sensitive --- and of course they have a strong accord in their musical partnership.

Emmanuel Bach is only sixteen years old, and since his last appearance here he has clearly matured musically and personally. He is still a slight, boyish figure on the platform, but he often showed an interpretative insight remarkable in one so young and of course he had the support of a pianist of great skill and experience.
Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata provided the big moments of the evening. I think it fair to say that in spite of his piety and worthy aspirations Cesar Franck was a gifted composer rather than a truly great one, but this violin sonata is his finest achievement and is indeed one of the high points of nineteenth century music.
It is a long and taxing work, and Jenny Stern and Emmanuel Bach gave a full-blooded performance, extracting full value from Franck’s rich contrapuntal themes. The music is turbulent at times (and difficult) but the prevailing mood is romantic, a befits a work that was written for the wedding of the celebrated violinist Eugene Ysaye who, like Franck, was born in Liege in Belgium.

The players were rewarded with prolonged applause at the end.
Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne provided music of a very different kind. This is an arrangement by Albert Spalding of extracts from Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella, written in 1920 and based on music by the eighteenth century composer Pergolesi. Pulcinella is a wonderful work, but I was not greatly impressed by this arrangement, which seemed rather thin and spare when compared with the orchestration of the original. Be that as it may, the playing was first-rate, with admirable balancer between the two performers.

One of Mozart’s 37 sonatas for violin and piano (K454 in B flat major) and some lighter works by Wieniawski, Debussy, Falla and Sarasate completed a varied and attractive programme.

The prelude performer of the evening funded by the National Lottery, was Edward Phiri, a baritone studying opera at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In songs by Schubert, Mozart and Donizetti he displayed a good powerful voice with accurate intonation and a sense of the dramatic. And he had the assistance of an expert accompanist, the concert pianist Andrew Warburton.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


31 March - Anzel Gerber - cello (SA) & Ben Schoeman - piano (S.A)

Friends of Music Society - crit of Cello recital 31st March 2008

In the absence of Michael Green, I was asked to write a brief appreciation of the recital by cellist Anzel Gerber with pianist Ben Schoeman, presented by the Friends of Music Society on 31st March at the Jewish Club.

The programme of works by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Debussy and Rubinstein was skillfully selected, full of interesting stylistic variety, and showcasing not only the capabilities of the cello and the fascinating textures of the two instruments, but also the superb artistry of the two players (complete with gorgeous cello sound!).

Their intimate rapport created precise ensemble playing and a perfect balance in tone and dynamics, sensitive to every nuance, yet conveying a lively feeling of spontanaety. Particularly enjoyable was the excellent musical characterisation moving from the typical classical motivic interplay in the Beethoven Sonata, to the quirky playful, at times energetic virtuosity in the Stravinsky Suite, delicate improvisational affects in the Debussy Sonata, and finally to the broadly expressive cello lyricism of the Rubinstein sonata which brought the concert to an exhuberant end.

It was an intensely musical experience that kept one's interest sustained throughout the concert, and the audience gave them a well deserved standing ovation.

Sincere thanks are due to the Friends of Music committee for their on-going efforts to provide Durban music lovers with live chamber music of the calibre we heard at this concert.

The Prelude Performer, 18 year old Camilla van der Merwe has a lovely soprano voice and good presentation skills, and gave a pleasing account of her three songs.

Barbara Trofimczyk


3 March - Alexey Gorlatch (piano)

This was a highly rewarding recital in the Durban Jewish Centre: a brilliant pianist, a well-chosen programme, and a sizeable audience consisting largely of new faces seldom if ever before seen at Friends of Music concerts.

Alexej Gorlatch comes from Kiev in the Ukraine, and at the age of 21 he is establishing himself on the international concert circuit. He is a pianist of exceptional technical powers, and in his general approach to music he shows a maturity beyond his years.

This was clear from the first two items on his programme, Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor, K. 475, and Beethoven’s Sonata in A major, Op,. 101. The pianist’s poise and self-control on the platform were reflected in his playing of the music. The Beethoven was particularly impressive. This is a complex and difficult work, technically and interpretatively, the first of Beethoven’s last five great piano sonatas. It is a diffuse composition, introspective and intimate, and difficult to bring off in performance, and Alexej Gorlatch did so with great success.

He drew full value from the reflective lyricism of the first movement, and the weight given to the different voices in the final fugue was wholly admirable.

The audience recognized the quality of the performance and gave the pianist an ovation.

Virtuosity of a very different kind was displayed in Chopin’s famous Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53. This is a great work, and one that is deservedly famous. Alexej Gorlatch gave a dazzling performance, the technical fireworks delivered with great aplomb. The left-hand octaves in the middle section were taken with awe-inspiring speed, and the rich sonority of the piece as a whole was fully realised.
More music from the romantic era came with Schumann’s Fantasiestucke Op. 12, eight “fantasy pieces” that are among the composer’s finest and most imaginative works for piano.

And, by way of complete contrast, Alexej Gorlatch played five pieces composed in 1926 by Bartok, the set called “Out of Doors”.

The evening’s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was Wendy Moshutli, soprano, who comes from the Northern Cape and is studying at the University of KwaZulu/Natal. An attractive, slender figure, she gave unusually good performances of arias by Mozart and Handel and of Schumann’s beautiful Widmung (Dedication). She has a strong voice, accurate intonation, and a pleasantly composed stage presence. And in the three widely differing items she showed a good sense of style.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


20 January - Trio Hemanay

This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of chamber music, presented by the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The Trio Hemanay are based in Johannesburg and consist of Marian Lewin (cello), Malcolm Nay (piano) and Helen Vosloo (flute). The unusual title they have given themselves is apparently a compound of parts of their names.

They are experienced and skilful performers, and the presence of the flute makes them an unusual combination. They gave an unusual programme too, and one that gave much pleasure to an enthusiastic audience.

They opened with a trio by Haydn, in F major, Hob.XV/17, one of three written by Haydn about 1790 for flute, cello and piano. Haydn was a remarkably prolific composer of chamber music, with dozens of quartets and trios, and this one was new to me. It was delightful, typically lively and cheerful, with a prominent role for the flute. Did Haydn ever write a dull piece of music? If he did, I have yet to hear it.

The players maintained their good form in the two twentieth century works that followed, both of them attractive and ingenious novelties. The quaintly named ?The Jet Whistle? for flute and cello, by the Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos, was apparently inspired by a train journey made by the composer. It was colourful and brilliant, with a good dash of humour. Helen Vosloo and Marian Lewin gave an accomplished performance.

This was followed by ?Sonate en Concert?, written about 50 years ago by the French composer Jean-Michel Damase. The trio?s pianist, Malcolm Nay, described this as ?an absolutely delightful and charming piece?, and so it turned out to be. It is in six brief movements with Baroque titles --- Rigaudon, Sicilienne, Gigue, etcetera --- but the mood is very twentieth century and very French, reflecting the perennial Parisian interest in the passing show on and off the streets.

Finally, we had a well-known and much-admired work, Mendelssohn?s Trio in D minor, Op. 49. The copious programme notes should, I think, have explained that this was composed, in 1839, as a trio for piano, cello and violin (the form in which it is generally known) and that the violin part was later arranged for flute, probably by the composer himself. Be that as it may, the flute part and the piece as a whole were excellently played, with good ensemble and balance in Mendelssohn?s quite complex and difficult score. Lovely music, with Malcolm Nay showing many moments of virtuoso brilliance at the keyboard.

The evening?s prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was seven-year-old Roxanne van Oudtshoorn of Durban, a very small violinist with a big tone and a good technique for one so young. Accompanied by Dana Hadjiev, she played pieces by Vivaldi and A. Curci. We will watch her future progress with interest.   

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


10 February - F.Uhlig - piano (Germany/UK) & Z.Beyers - violin (S.A/UK)

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)