Friends of Music Recitals 2011


6th December 2011 - Rising Stars

Ten young local performers displayed their skills at the Durban Jewish Centre in this annual end-of-the-year Friends of Music concert called Rising Stars.

Five pianists, a violinist, two sopranos and two wind players appeared before a large audience composed largely, I guess, of family and friends.

The artists ranged in age from 15 to 17, all but two of them were girls, and there was the usual substantial representation of performers who appeared to have a background of the East.

I was impressed by the technical ability, obvious sense of dedication, and platform poise of all of them. They are a credit to their teachers, and without exception they showed the kind of promise that could lead to big things in the future.

The choice of items for the programme was interesting, and ambitious. For a 15-year-old to play a movement from Beethoven’s Op. 109 sonata, one of the greatest works in the entire repertory, was a bold undertaking, as was the choice of a 17-year-old, the third of Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets.

The programme also seemed to reflect a determined effort to have variety. The aforesaid Beethoven was followed (the same pianist) by a Jazz Impromptu by Alexander Johnson, who teaches music at the University of Pretoria. This seemed an unusual juxtaposition.

A soprano gave us one of Hugo Wolf’s lieder, followed by a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. A pianist gave a thoughtful, meditative account of Rachmaninov’s Melodie followed by the chirpy and attractive Dizzy Fingers by the American jazz composer Edward Confrey.

All this gave the audience much pleasure, and it was reassuring evidence that, in spite of many counter-attractions, from television to sport, the study of classical music is still a vital part of Durban’s cultural life.

The performers were: Margie Fan (15), piano; Caterina Reigl (16), recorder; Frances Muir (16), soprano; Arne Janse van Rensburg (17), piano; Catherine Lin (16), flute; Kathryn Stranex (17), piano; Romy Allen (17), piano; Makhadze Baloyi (17), soprano; William Chin (17), violin; and Rashalia Pather (17), piano.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


15th November 2011 - KZNPO Ensembles

Members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra have formed an ensemble group for occasional chamber music concerts in Durban, and in this performance, for the Friends of Music, they attracted a large and appreciative audience to the Durban Jewish Centre with a programme of premium Schubert.

They played only two works, both of them masterpieces: the String Quintet, Op. 163, and the Octet for clarinet, horn, bassoon and string quintet, Op. 166.

Schubert’s status has grown steadily over the years and he is now widely regarded, I think, as one of the handful of supreme composers. In a lifetime of a mere 31 years (1797-1828) he produced an astonishing amount of great music, including some outstanding chamber works; and he excelled himself in this Quintet (for two violins, viola and two cellos) and Octet.

The slow movement of the Quintet is exceptionally beautiful, even by Schubertian standards, and the hour-long, six-movement Octet is a constant stream of melody.
This lovely, lyrical, dramatic music was played with high skill and dedication by the KZNPO instrumentalists. The quintet was dominated by the wife-husband team of Elena Kerimova (first violin) and Boris Kerimov (first cello), with Elena in splendid form as she led the players through the complexities of Schubert’s music. The other players were Geza Kayser (violin), Ralitsa Todorova (cello) and David Snaith (viola).

Tonal balance and coordination were excellent; the five string players often sounded like one instrument. And there were many deft touches of interpretation, such as the pizzicato dialogue in the slow movement between the first violin and the second cello.

The Octet is more relaxed, less intense, than the Quintet, and the players revelled in Schubert’s delightful melodies. Here again Elena Kerimova led the proceedings, but an important role goes to the clarinet, because the work was commissioned by an aristocratic amateur clarinettist, Count Ferdinand Troyer. Ian Holloway played the clarinet part with great assurance and eloquence. And the horn player, Sorin Osorhean, provided some splendid interludes.

The other players were Geza Kayser (second violin), Boris Kerimov (cello), David Snaith (viola), Simon Milliken (double bass), and Vessela Minkova (bassoon).

Of the nine players involved in the concert, two come from Russia, two from Bulgaria, three from England, one from Romania and one from Austria. We are fortunate to have such an infusion of talent from old Europe in our Durban musical scene.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was the gifted and versatile Sarah Pudifin-Jones, who has been a violinist with the KZNPO and is an advocate with law degrees from Cambridge. She is an elegant violinist with an elegant stage presence. Accompanied by Gerhard Geist, she played an arrangement of the intermezzo from Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole and a gentle and attractive Romance by Shostakovich.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


8th November 2011 - Four Hands at the Piano: an Evening to Please Franz Liszt

(Review of a Friends of Music Recital held at the Durban Jewish Centre, Old Fort Road on 8th November, 2011, by an Anonymous Friend)

As one who has long regarded the concert programming in Durban as somewhat conservative, I was delighted by both the choice, and the performance, of the major works at last night’s concert. Indeed, my feeling is that the concert would also have delighted the major proponent of the so-called ‘new music’ in the 19th century, Franz Liszt - including the spirited rendition of three jazz items at the start by the Prelude Performers from the Durban Music School and the KZN Youth Wind Band.

The infectious enthusiasm of this group of brass instrument players and their timpanist held our attention until the moments of farewell when, player by player, each ceased to blow his instrument and left the stage to the drummer to beat the concluding notes. Actually, this conclusion was not quite original, but in the tradition of the great symphonic master, Joseph Haydn, who ends his Symphony no. 45 in F sharp minor of 1772, subtitled The Farewell, with an instruction to each member of the orchestra to snuff out the candle of his music stand, and leave the stage one by one, the remainder playing on until complete silence reigns!

The main works of the evening were three large-scale compositions for piano (two for two hands, one for four hands), performed by the English pianist James Redfern, and the Romanian-South African Laura Pauna, who proved to be an excellent combination of outstanding talent, ideally suited to the chosen works. The concert opened with James Redfern’s rendition of the very demanding Transcendental Etude no. 5 in B-flat of 1851 (subtitled feux follets – Will o’ the Wisp, from a set of 12 études) by Franz Liszt, a work of tremendous dynamic range and contrasts, apparently structureless and conforming to no earlier musical tradition. Through no exercise of the imagination does it seem possible to trace musical antecedents to this composition, as Liszt appears to owe nothing to the great tradition of European masters from before his time –‘new music’ in the true sense of the word!

The Rhapsodie Espagnole of Maurice Ravel came about perhaps through the childhood influence of the composer’s Basque mother, who used to sing him songs of her native land. The version for four hands was composed rapidly in 1907, before the better known orchestral composition, which was only completed in the next year. The French flavour of the delicate opening Prelude à la Nuit (Prelude to the Night) is followed by three rhythmic sections in the tradition of Spanish melodies, Malaguena, Habanera and Feria, which are extraordinary in being both unmistakeably ‘Spanish’ and yet uniquely ‘Ravel’ at the same time. This work requires both metronomic precision in the timing of the two pianists, and exact dynamic ‘balance’ between the four hands, requirements which were fully met in last night’s performance – probably the best duet I have yet been fortunate to hear.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance of the concert was the exciting Sonata for Piano by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, a mature work in three movements which appeared only in 1961, some thirty-five years after his first piano composition. While observing a traditional three-movement sonata form (allegro, andante, presto), none of the ingredients adhered to older tradition. The first and last movements could also have been subtitled con fuoco, demanding extraordinary precision at speed of the performer (Laura Pauna). Listening set my mind back to the musical accompaniment of chase scenes from the old silent movies of Charlie Chaplin! Perhaps Khachaturian had also enjoyed these films?

Unfortunately, the encore, the fourth of a set of six impromptus by Robert Schumann entitled Bilder aus Osten (Pictures from the East, Op. 66, for four hands), while beautifully played, fell to my mind below the musical level set by the redoubtable trio of Liszt, Ravel and Khachaturian. The slow gavotte-like music suggested nothing oriental to me, but the accompaniment to a stately Scottish strathspey! However, it brought me down from the ‘heights’ of experimentation to the more usual programming at classical recitals.

J Holloway


25th October 2011 - Peter Bruns (Cello) and Annegret Kuttner (Piano)

Peter Bruns and Annegret Kuttner chose the perfect programme for this cello and piano recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre: three sonatas running for about 25 minutes each, widely different but all of them masterworks.

The performance was top-class throughout, and the result was an evening of memorable music.

Peter Bruns and Annegret Kuttner are both German. He is, I would guess, in his forties, a burly figure with a mane of grey hair. She is, guessing again, about 30, slender, pretty and young. They are husband and wife. They have played music together for some years, and it is not surprising that they do so with total understanding and tonal balance.

He produces a rich, full sound from his cello, which was made in 1730 and which was once owned by the celebrated Pablo Casals. She has an outstanding keyboard technique with a light and sympathetic touch admirably suited to ensemble playing of this kind.

They opened their recital with Mendelssohn’s Sonata in D major, Op. 58, which is perhaps not as well known as it should be. Written in 1843, it is a typically graceful work, melodious, lyrical, with an outstanding slow movement that starts with slow rolling arpeggios from the solo piano.

Annegret Kuttner handled the difficult piano part with apparent ease, and Peter Bruns played with great vigour, especially in the final Allegro.

Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata is a musical curiosity, as its name indicates. It was written in 1824 for the arpeggione, a six-stringed instrument that was held upright, like a cello. The instrument was briefly popular in Vienna but has long since disappeared from the musical scene. Schubert’s sonata has, however, survived as a work for cello or viola. It is an exceptionally fine composition, with an eloquent slow movement and many lilting, song-like themes elsewhere.

Peter Bruns and Annegret Kuttner extracted full value from this lovely music.

Finally, we had music from the ultimate master, Beethoven, represented by the finest of his five cello sonatas, that in A major, Op. 69. Perhaps I should emphasise that in all these works the pianist is an equal partner, not an accompanist, as is clear from the interplay of their roles in this sonata. Here again the rapport between the two performers was outstanding.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Milton Chissano from Mozambique, who played three pieces on an electric guitar.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


11th October 2011 - Maxime Zecchini (piano)

This was the most unusual piano recital I have ever attended. Most of the works played were for left hand alone, and the pianist, 32-year-old Maxime Zecchini, who comes from France, gave an astonishing display of power and dexterity with one hand.

For most pianists the left hand is much more difficult than the right. It requires long hours of practice for the left to match the right in nimbleness and fluency. Maxime Zecchini has taken this to the ultimate by developing an entire repertory of left-hand compositions, and he presented several of these in his recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. He is, I was told, left-handed.

He opened with an Etude (study) by a little-known Russian composer, Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931). This began with a gentle theme adorned by arpeggios, the tune given due emphasis by the pianist¸ and it soon became an exciting virtuoso piece.

Zecchini’s ability to mark out a theme in a forest of accompanying notes was illustrated again in a Caprice Romantique by the twentieth century French composer Pierre Sancan.

Then came an ambitious and clever transcription by Zecchini himself of the first movement of Saint-Saens’s fourth piano concerto. This must have been very tiring to play --- loud chords, big leaps, rapid runs, all this with the pianist’s right arm hanging limply at his side, a sight that some members of the audience found oddly disturbing.
The left-hand part of the programme was completed with a suite by the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) and an Etude by Bela Bartok, written in 1903, when the composer was 22. This turned out, unexpectedly, to be a brilliant piece in the late romantic style, quite different from the often austere music of Bartok’s later years. “Would you have guessed that was by Bartok?” somebody asked me.

Conventional two-hand music was represented on the programme by highly individual and somewhat unconventional interpretations of Mozart’s well-known Fantasy in D minor, Chopin’s first Nocturne and two intermezzi from Brahms’s Op. 117.

Will Maxime Zecchini’s pioneering work start a new vogue in left-hand performances? I don’t think so. In a programme note he said that “the idea that just five fingers could sound like two hands seemed an extraordinary wonder to me, and a number of composers have managed to take up the challenge”. Yes, but why not use both hands?

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were four talented clarinet players, Brett Alborough, Thomis Sweet, Wesley Lewis and Daniella Straeuli-Paul. They played music by Mozart and the American composer Clare Grundman..

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


13th September 2011 - Jan Hugo (piano)

For the second time in a fortnight the Friends of Music have presented an outstanding young South African pianist in a recital at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The first was Ben Schoeman from Pretoria and the second is Jan Hugo, who was born in Bloemfontein twenty years ago and is already quite a veteran of the concert stage.
Jan Hugo is a tall, slender young man, slight of figure but bold and strong at the keyboard. He gave a varied programme of consistently difficult music, and in doing so he demonstrated a formidable technique and a confident approach to technical and interpretative problems.

He opened with Schumann’s Novellette, Op. 21, No of this master’s lesser known works. The novelletten are a set of pieces written in 1838. They were named after an English singer, Clara Novello, who was a friend of Schumann’s, but the real inspiration seems to have come from the other Clara, his wife and the love of his life. As novellette means a novella, a short novel, the title seems appropriate for what is a kind of musical adventure story.

Jan Hugo tackled the piece with considerable gusto. Some people in the audience thought he was too robust, but I found his vigorous account of the music attractive and appealing.

Then came the major work of the evening, the last of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, Op. 111, a composition that presents a tremendous intellectual, emotional and physical challenge to the performer. The music is profound, far-reaching, prophetic, astonishingly modern considering that it was written nearly 200 years ago. I found Jan Hugo’s performance compelling and remarkably mature for so young a player. He succeeded in invoking accurately the stormy and poetic spirit of Beethoven, the greatest master of all.

This inevitably overshadowed the rest of the programme, brilliant and attractive though it was. Jan Hugo showed his great technical abilities in pieces by Liszt and Ravel, the most effective being Le Gibet from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, in which the pianist conveyed exactly the macabre creak and swing of the gallows.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were two singers from the UKZN opera school, Azola Mabutho (bass baritone) and Teresa Mbatha (soprano). They gave much pleasure with songs from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and an old Rodgers and Hammerstein favourite, Oklahoma.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


12th July 2011 - Impressionism and Expressionism

This latest offering from the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre was a mixture of a concert and a lecture. The title Impressionism and Expressionism referred to music by Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, a formidable group of composers functioning mainly in the twentieth century. The performers were players from the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra plus the pianist Liezl-Maret Jacobs, and the spoken commentary was given by Christopher Cockburn.

It was, I think, quite a novel idea to present a programme of largely unfamiliar modern music in the manner of a university lecture. I myself would have preferred more music and less talk – the first hour was occupied almost equally by words and music, and the words could have been condensed into a written programme note --- but a large audience seemed to enjoy this method. The commentary was certainly informative, with useful pointers to the background of the compositions performed.

Liezl-Maret opened the programme with two well-known items from Debussy’s first book of Preludes, and she was joined by the violinist Elena Kerimova for an eloquent performance of a famous and beautiful work, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, moonlight.

Liezl-Maret appeared in everything throughout the evening, a challenging task which she undertook with skill and aplomb.

Debussy was featured again in some rarely played works: a fine Rhapsody for clarinet and piano, a piano trio, and eight intriguing pieces for flute and piano entitled Bilitis. These were originally songs purportedly written by a woman in ancient Greece but were in fact the work of a French poet named Pierre Louys (1870-1925).

Short pieces by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern completed an unusual evening of music. The players, apart from those already mentioned, were Boris Kerimov (cello), Lisa Thom (flute) and David Cohen (clarinet), and the standard of performance was consistently high.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were two students from the UKZN’s opera school, Nomalungelo Zubane (soprano) and Ndumiso Nyoka (tenor). Accompanied by Dana Hadjiev, they displayed good, confident voices in arias from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Too much vibrato from the soprano, though.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


21st June 2011 - Ashu (saxophone) and Andrew Warburton (piano)

The American saxophonist Ashu beguiled a large audience at the Durban Jewish Centre with a remarkable display of virtuosity and versatility.

A few days earlier he had aroused much enthusiasm at the City Hall when he appeared with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. The rapturous reception was repeated when, with Andrew Warburton at the piano, he gave a Friends of Music recital that included both the items that he had played with the orchestra.

Ashu is a showman, but he is also an unusually gifted musician. On this occasion he performed on two saxophones, an alto and a soprano, the first much bigger and deeper-toned than the other. And he was fortunate in having Andrew Warburton, an experienced and accomplished concert pianist, as an accompanist.

He opened with one of the best works on his programme, the two-movement Concertino da Camera (chamber concerto) by the twentieth century French composer Jacques Ibert. Ibert, who died in 1962, is known to many young pianists as the composer of a piece called The Little White Donkey. He has been described as a dapper Parisian who wrote dapper music, and this concertino, written originally for saxophone and 11 string and wind instruments, is a typically sophisticated work.

Brilliant, lyrical, expressive, romantic, it explores to the full the capabilities of the saxophone. Ashu gave a totally compelling performance, with Andrew Warburton excellent in the busy, dissonant, difficult piano part.

The programme included two other works written originally for the saxophone and several arrangements made by Ashu himself. The Fantasia for soprano saxophone and piano by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos was consistently interesting and, as Ashu pointed out in his comments from the stage, it conveyed vividly the atmosphere and folk music of the Brazilian scene. Andrew Warburton at the piano made a significant contribution, as he did throughout the evening.

The Fantasy on an original theme for alto saxophone and piano by Jules Demersseman turned out to be an attractive work, tuneful, easy on the ear. Demersseman, who died in 1866 at the age of 33, must have been one the first people to write for the saxophone, which was invented in the eighteen-forties. This pleasing work is a good memorial to an almost unknown composer.

An arrangement of the Andante from Rachmaninov’s cello sonata, Op. 19, was less convincing, I thought. This is a beautiful piece, but the saxophone is more loud and assertive and less introspective than the cello. I prefer the original version, played not long ago at a Friends of Music concert, and some others in the audience thought likewise.

In lighter vein, three pieces by the Argentine king of the tango Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) were irresistible, Ashu playing with great verve and physical energy. And film music was represented by Ashu’s arrangement of music written by the Italian Ennio Morricone for three celebrated films: The Mission, The Untouchables and Cinema Paradiso.

In response to a standing ovation the saxophonist gave an encore, Piazzolla’s well-known Libertango.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Sibonelo Mbanjwa, a first-rate tenor who holds a B.A. in philosophy and is now training for the Roman Catholic priesthood. In songs by Handel (from The Messiah), Gluck and Faure he displayed true intonation, clear diction, well-judged phrasing and good deportment on the stage. He was accompanied at the piano by Rosalie Conrad.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


14th June 2011 - Bronwen Forbay (Soprano) and Christopher Duigan (Piano)

Bronwen Forbay, who was born and grew up in Durban, has long been a favourite with audiences here, and deservedly so. She is a versatile soprano of very high quality, and she is a remarkably gracious and engaging personality.

She is returning to the United States, where she now lives with her husband, after a spell in Durban, and this recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre was billed as her “farewell Durban concert”. This is a bit extreme. She is still very young. Maybe like Dame Nellie Melba nearly a century ago she will have farewell recitals extending over many years. She will surely be back in Durban before long.

Ah well, that’s showbiz. What is unarguable is that this recital was a great success, bringing a large audience to a pitch of enthusiasm. Accompanied by the accomplished Christopher Duigan, who also gave two piano solos, Bronwen presented a programme ranging from Mozart to twentieth century Afrikaans songs. She has developed into a mature and confident artist, and this was clear from her first item, the well-known “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville. She is in demand as an opera singer and she has all the requirements: a powerful yet sweet voice, accurate intonation at all levels, a strong sense of theatre, and a physical appearance that is a constant delight to the eye. All these attributes were displayed here

nd in the other operatic arias on her programme, by Mozart, Puccini, Lehar and Verdi.
There were some unfamiliar items – a lovely song by Liszt and four Afrikaans songs by John K. Pescod and S. le Roux Marais ---and Christopher Duigan contributed two Liszt piano works, the well known Liebestraume No. 3 and the virtuoso Reminiscences of Lucia di Lammermoor. He was a skilful and sympathetic accompanist throughout the concert.
In such a parade of excellence it is perhaps unwise to single out high points, but my favourites of the evening were Poulenc’s Les chemins de l’amour (Paths of love), a smoky, sentimental, sardonic and beautiful French song, and Marais’s “Kom dans Klaradyn”, a lilting little waltz, both exquisitely performed.

In response to a standing ovation at the end, Bronwen offered the audience a choice of encores (she has enviable communication skills). On a show of hands the request was for a song from the younger Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, duly sung with great verve.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were ten a capella unaccompanied singers from Northlands Girls’ High School. Trained by Jenny Bonsignore, they showed talent and discipline in giving lively performances of “Somewhere over the rainbow” and a medley of light songs.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


31st May 2011 - Anzel Gerber (Cello) and Rinko Hama (Piano)

The Pretoria-born cellist Anzel Gerber is one of South Africa's finest instrumentalists, and this was amply displayed in a recital in Durban with the Japanese pianist Rinko Hama.

Playing for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre they gave an all-Russian programme of mainly modern music. The works listed may have seemed a little forbidding to some members of the audience, but they turned out to be both impressive and attractive.

The two women performers made an interesting contrast in appearance, Anzel blonde and petite, Rinko dark and tall. As a duo they showed excellent cohesion and understanding. Anzel Gerber has played several times before for the Friends of Music, and her technical and interpretative powers seem to have grown steadily over the years. Rinko Hama is new here, I think, and she showed virtuoso skills at the keyboard.

They began with a Sonata, Op. 12, by Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950). This work, first published in 1956, is quite romantic in style rather than aggressively modern. The quality of the playing was apparent from the first unaccompanied notes of the opening cello recitative. Anzel Gerber plays a cello made in Italy 200 years ago by Antonio Gagliano, and from it she extracted a splendidly resonant tone. She has a calm and poised platform manner, without idiosyncracies that could interfere with the flow of the music. And at the piano Rinko Hama gave a commanding performance of a difficult part.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was represented by two unusually light-hearted pieces, the Adagio and Spring Waltz from his Ballet Suite No. 2. The waltz was delightful, with plenty of jaunty staccato phrases from the cello.

More of twentieth century Russia came in the form of Sergei Prokofiev's Sonata, Op. 119, composed in 1949. This is an interesting work with varying moods: fierce, harsh, lyrical, and at times almost playful. All the cello's technical capabilities are explored here, and Anzel Gerber rose to the occasion with another impeccable performance.

In lighter vein came the brilliant Pezzo capriccioso (capricious piece) by Russia's greatest composer, Tchaikovsky. And there were further beautiful sounds in an encore, the Andante from Rachmaninov's Sonata Op. 19, written in 1901. It was so well played that I regretted that they had not included the entire work in their programme.

The evening's prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust fund, was 18-year-old Mary-Anne Brouckaert, a violinist and Durban schoolgirl, who showed skill and promise in playing pieces by Vivaldi and Sibelius. She was accompanied by Bobby Mills.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


17th May 2011 - Andrey Baranov (violin) and Maria Baranova (piano)

Two young Russian musicians, brother and sister, gave a violin and piano recital of very high quality when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre, presenting a programme that was sometimes inspirational, sometimes cheerfully entertaining.

Andrey Baranov (violin) was born in Leningrad/St Petersburg 25 years ago and his sister Maria Baranova (piano) was born there two years later. They both displayed technical skills and interpretative insights that were quite remarkable in such young performers.

From a purely musical point of view the high point came right at the beginning with Andrey Baranov’s playing of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D minor, which was written about 1720. This is a work for solo, unaccompanied violin, and the Chaconne, variation treatment on a repetitive bass line, is one of Bach’s most profound and celebrated compositions. About 150 years later Brahms wrote: “For a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings”.

The Chaconne is a formidable intellectual and physical challenge for the performer, and Andrey Baranova showed a masterly technique and a firm grasp of the structure of the music. I suspect that quite a large number of the good-sized audience had never heard this work before, but they listened with rapt attention and rewarded the performer with prolonged applause at the end.

Maria Baranova joined her brother for the rest of the programme, starting with Beethoven’s Sonata Op 12, No. 3, written in 1797 and one of the best of the master’s 10 sonatas for violin and piano. Both instruments are equal partners in these sonatas, and Maria revelled in the brilliant piano part of this one. The noble slow movement brought forth a lovely tone from Andrey, playing a Guarneri violin made in 1682.

After this the programme had a lighter flavour. Tchaikovsky’s Waltz Op. 34 is elegant, swift, difficult, and it was performed with great panache. Then came something completely different, “Vice” by the South African composer Matthijs van Dijk, a piece as abrasive and cryptic as its title.

Henryk Wieniawski’s Fantasia from Gounod’s Faust is a typical nineteenth century extravaganza by a Polish violinist whose main purpose in composing was to show off his own skills. The performance was brilliant, and it was acknowledged with foot-stamping and whistles from the delighted audience.

Finally, we went to familiar ground with “Fragments from Porgy and Bess”, by the famous violinist Jascha Heifetz. These are arrangements of songs from George Gershwin’s opera, and in this form they are most effective: emotional, romantic, sentimental. The songs transcribed by Heifetz are: “My man’s gone now”, “There’s a boat that’s leaving soon for New York”, “Bess you is my woman”, “Summertime” , “A woman is a sometime thing”, and “It ain’t necessarily so”.

A lovely end to a splendid evening of music.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart


12th April 2011 - Emmanuel Bach (Violin) and Jenny Stern (piano)

It is, I think, two years since the mother and son duo of Emmanuel Bach (violin) and Jenny Stern (piano) appeared in Durban. They made a welcome return in a Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre. These players are based in England, but Jenny Stern comes from this part of the world—she is a graduate of Natal University --- and they both have many friends and admirers here. Emmanuel Bach used to be a sort of child prodigy, although there are so many gifted young violinists around these days that one hesitates to use the word prodigy. Anyway, he is now 18 years old, a tall, lean young man and a mature and poised artist.

A varied programme that steered well away from the hackneyed and the over-familiar provided ample evidence of the talents of these two musicians. They opened with Bach’s Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo, a delightful and admirably concentrated work; its four movements take less than ten minutes to perform.

Then came Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23, one of the least often played of the master’s ten sonatas for violin and piano. As is the case with the other nine, the two instruments are equal partners; the piano is certainly not a mere accompaniment. The texture of the music is rather sparse and clear, and there are many passages in which one instrument imitates the other. Jenny Stern played the piano part with very good judgment and balance, and generally speaking the performance of both players was immaculate and stylish.

I heard the comment later that they are rather cool and unemotional in their platform demeanour. Maybe, but I would rather have their calm dignity than the extravagantly flamboyant behaviour of some players.

Debussy’s Sonata in G minor, written in 1917, took us into the impressionistic era. This was a convincing performance of another concise work (about 15 minutes), and Emmanuel Bach in particular gave a confident and assertive interpretation of this complex music.

The programme ended with the Poème by the French composer Ernest Chausson, written in 1896, and Paganini’s well-known La Campanella.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was a singer, Warren Vernon-Driscoll, a pupil at Kearsney College. In quite an ambitious selection of songs by Bach, Bizet and Hugo Wolf he displayed a tenor voice of pleasantly light timbre. He obviously has an intelligent appreciation of the music he is singing, and he shows much promise of developing further.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


29th March 2011 - Ching-Yun H, piano

The brilliant young Taiwanese pianist Ching-Yun Hu delighted a Friends of Music audience in the Durban Jewish Centre with a performance of music that was partly familiar and partly off the beaten track.

At the age of 29 Ching-Yun has won many performing awards and has established an international reputation, with much praise from critics in Europe, the United States and Asia. It is easy to see and hear why. She is slight of figure and modest in demeanour, but her playing has great power and conviction.

She is now based in Germany but she is indisputably Chinese, and she is further evidence of the remarkable achievements of artists from the east in western classical music.

She opened with what was probably the best-known item on her programme, Mozart’s Sonata in D major, K. 576, one of the best of the master’s twenty piano sonatas. In this arresting work she showed a strong, almost forthright, tone, with admirable emphasis of the various voices in the contrapuntal passages of the first and third movements. The slow movement was played with limpid quality.

Then came a complete contrast: four of Liszt’s 55 transcriptions of Schubert songs. I suppose that a purist could argue that these elaborate and rhapsodic arrangements are far removed from the straightforward eloquence of the originals, but there is no doubt that they are compelling piano displays.

Those chosen by Ching-Yun Hu were Aufenthalt (resting place), Auf dem wasser zu singen (To be sung on the water), Hark, hark, the lark, and Erlkonig (Erlking). She showed a massive technique, generating great power in the brilliant virtuoso passages.

Some rarely played music by Russians came after the interval. Two pieces from Tchaikovsky’s Eighteen Piano Pieces, Op. 72, composed in 1893, the year of his death, revealed an interesting touch of modernism in this most romantic of composers. And Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 26, composed in 1913 and revised in 1931, was a big showpiece that was clearly intended to exhibit the composer’s great keyboard prowess. “Rachmaninov trying to outdo Liszt”, a member of the audience said to me drily.

It is an interesting composition, rather dense in texture but with some typical lyrical passages, and it was very well performed.

Ching-Yun gave an encore, Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major Op. 55, No. 2, and this was played so beautifully that I was sorry that she had not included more Chopin in her programme.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were the Breschi Recorder Group, young people trained by Sandra Breschi of Durban. Fourteen of them played an irresistible Hoe Down, an American country dance, by Brian Bonsor, a Scottish composer who died last month aged 84; and then three players played a Tango by the same composer. All very good, and much enjoyed by the audience and the performers.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


8st March 2011 - Duo  Zappa-Mainolfi

We have had plenty of cello in Durban recently, three successive concerts with this noble instrument dominant in all of them.  The latest exponent to display his skills was the Swiss cellist Mattia Zappa who, in partnership with the Italian pianist Massimiliano Mainolfi, presented an interesting programme to a large Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre.

A week before we had heard two Russians, the cellist Georgi Anichenko and the pianist Anastasya Terenkova, playing mainly modern music at the same venue.  Comparisons are invidious and I do not intend to make them here.  Suffice it to say that Durban is fortunate to have heard two cellists and two pianists of such quality in rapid succession.

Matta Zappa and Massimiliano Mainolfi formed their duo in 1994, when they were students at the Juilliard school in New York, and since then they have achieved high distinction internationally.  For the Friends of Music they played some unusual music from well-known composers, beginning with a sonata by the great Johann Sebastian Bach, one written originally for viola da gamba.  The viola da gamba is an instrument with six strings dating back to the fifteenth century and played like a cello (the name means literally “leg viol”).  Music written for it is often played these days on the cello.  The Duo Zappa-Mainolfi turned their expert attention to one of the three gamba sonatas by Bach, No, 3 in G minor, BMV 1029, composed in 1723.

This turned out to be a typically lively, vigorous composition, with a first movement reminiscent at times of one of the Brandenburg concertos, a stately Adagio, and a most entertaining final Allegro alternating between major and minor keys. The playing was first-rate, and the audience obviously enjoyed it.

Jean Sibelius is a famous and popular composer, but his Malinconia for cello and piano is a rarity in the concert hall.  The name means Melancholy and the piece was written in 1900 after the composer’s 15-month-old daughter Kirsti had died of typhus. Sibelius is not often thought of as a piano composer, but the piano part here has a sort of dark virtuosity, with many rapid arpeggios, and the cello is deep-toned and, well, melancholy.  It is an extended work, perhaps a little too extended, but it is impressive, and advanced for its time.

Then came the Rondo in G minor, Op. 94, by Dvorak.  A friend sitting near me said beforehand “I don’t know it, but if it’s by Dvorak I’ll like it”.  Exactly.  This rondo is graceful, clear, melodous, Bohemian in flavour, lyrical with a touch of sadness.  Lovely music, and it brought out the best in both performers.

Finally we moved to more familiar territory with the big work of the evening, Brahms’s Sonata in F major, Op. 99.  The players thrived in the broad, bold patterns of Brahms’s music.  The beautiful Adagio brought forth some exceptional playing from the cellist, and the pianist showed great skill, technically and interpretatively, in the complex and somewhat diffuse outer movements.

A most successful concert, much appreciated by the audience.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was the soprano Gabrielle Wills who, apart from her singing, has acquired degrees in economics and business science  Accompanied by Rosalie Conrad,  she sang numbers from musicals by Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen and George and Ira Gershwin. 

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


1st March 2011 - Georgi Anichenko (Cello) and Anastasya Terenkova (Piano)

This was an outstanding recital. From the first sombre phrases of Faure’s Elegie it was clear to the Friends of Music audience in the Durban Jewish Centre that we were listening to performers of superior quality, and the evening turned out to be one of constant pleasure.

Georgi Anichenko is from Belarus, which is between Russia and Poland, and Anastasya Terenkova was born in Moscow. They are both young, 25 and 30, tall, slender and good-looking, and they play with an unaffected intensity and skill that captivate the listener. Georgi Anichenko produces a rich, accurate tone from his cello, and Anastasya Terenkova is obviously a splendid pianist. Playing together they demonstrated an excellent balance and clarity.

They presented a programme of French and Russian music, most of it unfamiliar to most people in the audience. It was, however, all first-rate music with no dull moments. They began the evening with three pieces by Gabriel Faure, a somewhat underrated and underplayed French master: the Elegie, Sicilienne (this one quite well-known) and Apres un reve, After a Dream, an arrangement of one of Faure’s finest songs.

After this came Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, written in 1948. This Frenchman was one of the most distinctive of the moderns, a mixture of seriousness and merriment, qualities both amply illustrated in this work. It was delightful, parts of it reminiscent of his concerto for two pianos, and it was played with great dash and panache.

Then came the Russians, first Prokofiev, represented by his Five Melodies, Op. 35a, originally written for voice and piano and transcribed for cello and piano by the British cellist Raphael Wallfisch. The mood of these pieces ranges from dreamy to playful, and the performers brought out every detail with high accomplishment.

Shostakovich’s 1934 Sonata for Cello and Piano is a big work with driving rhythms and some attractive melodies. The four movements are widely contrasted, and there was much to admire in the performance. Anastasya’s brilliant piano playing in particular caught the ear and eye, with her partner displaying great eloquence on the cello.

In response to prolonged applause they gave an encore, an arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, originally written as a wordless song. Beautiful music, beautifully played.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, were two Japanese girls, sisters, who are pupils at Crawford College and violin students of Isaac Melamed. The younger, Emiri Nishii, is eight years old and is the smallest violinist I have ever seen. Calm, poised and doll-like, she showed astonishing maturity in playing a sonata by the seventeenth century Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli. David Smith provided a sympathetic accompaniment.

Her 12-year-old sister, Erina Nishii, played a movement from a sonata by Bach for unaccompanied violin. Both these children performed sophisticated music with insight and skill, the reward, I suspect, of long hours of hard practice. The people of the east understand the value of work.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)


11th January 2011 - Bryan Wallick (Piano)

A virtuoso pianist has remarkable pulling power in the world of music, and a large crowd turned up at the Durban Jewish Centre for this recital by Bryan Wallick, a young American who is now based in Pretoria and who has built a big international career on the concert platform.
Apart from the regulars, there were many new faces in the audience, and Dr Vera Dubin, the chairman of the Friends of Music, tells me that she has signed up many new members this year. All most encouraging for the future of classical music in Durban.

Bryan Wallick has played in Durban before, and obviously his reputation had preceded him. He presented a virtuoso programme that greatly appealed to the audience. He is a tall, lean man with an admirably natural and unaffected keyboard manner, and he delivered a very taxing programme with aplomb and exceptional skills.

Some experts in the audience thought he had a rather hard tone and that his playing was rather loud. Maybe, but these are characteristics of many virtuoso pianists, and the fact is that the concert was a great success. Not many soloists earn whistles of approval, as Bryan Wallick did.

He opened with Haydn’s “English Sonata”, in C major, Hob. 16.50, a work that, like most of this composer’s music, is polished, bright and cheerful. It was a delight to listen to, and one wonders why music by this great master is not played more often at concerts and recitals.
This was followed by Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, Symphonic Studies, one of the most difficult works in the repertory. Bryan Wallick played this dense, complex music with power, resonance and authority. I liked best the quiet, reflective variation just before the brilliant finale.

Debussy’s three Estampes (“prints”) were a strong contrast. They are based on impressions from the Orient, Spain and France, and they displayed the pianist’s skills in quieter music.
The full virtuoso treatment returned in Liszt’s transcriptions of two well-known Schubert songs, Ave Maria and the thunderous Erlkonig, and in Vladimir Horowitz’s arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15, the one with the Rakoczy March. It appears to be even more difficult than the original and has many “modern” touches.

For encores we had Schumann’s Traumerie (Dreaming), the only really gentle music in the recital, and a whirlwind arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery, was a 15-year-old violinist, Daniel Kolev, from Kearsney College. Accompanied at the piano by Dana Hadjiev, he showed high promise as he played a sonata by the eighteenth century Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini and a colourful Spanish piece, Souvenir de Sarasate, by the German-American composer William Potstock.

Michael Green (courtesy of ArtSmart)