Friends of Music Recitals 2012



4th December 2012 - Rising Stars

Every year the Friends of Music, in collaboration with the South African Society of Music Teachers, present a concert called Rising Stars in which young performers are given the opportunity to display their abilities.

This year’s concert, at the Durban Jewish Centre, was as usual an impressive and encouraging display of youthful talent. Ten young KZN musicians, aged 16 to 18, gave a programme ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to George Gershwin.

In doing so they showed technical skills, musical insight and a poise and sophistication exemplified by the elegant evening gowns of the young ladies among them.

These were the performers:

  • Arne Janse van Rensburg, piano. He was born in the Netherlands 18 years ago and came to South Africa as a small boy.
  • Caterina Reigi, recorder, aged 17, a pupil at Our Lady of Fatima Convent School.
  • Margie Fan, piano, aged 16, at Crawford North Coast.
  • Catherine Lin, flute, a matric pupil at St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls, Kloof.
  • Romy Allen, piano, 18, also at St Mary’s.
  • Frances Muir, soprano, 18, Crawford North Coast.
  • Janice Atkinson, flute, 18, Westville Girls’ High.
  • William Chin, violin, 18, Clifton College.
  • Sakhile Humbane, flute, 16, Durban High School.
  • Kathryn Stranex, piano, 18, Crawford College La Lucia.

They were accompanied on the piano, where necessary, by Bobby Mills, Liezl-Maret Jacobs, Ros Conrad and Dana Hadjiev.

It would be invidious and unfair to single out individuals in this list. How do you compare a flute sonata by Hindemith with a piano nocturne by Chopin?

Suffice it to say that the standard was generally very high and that the performers were a credit to their teachers.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


27th November 2012 - Jacques Imbrailo, baritone

Jacques Imbrailo is a name that is probably unknown to most South African music-lovers, but in a recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre he showed that he is a baritone singer of the top rank.

He has a strong South African background. He was a pupil for some years at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School --- he started his musical life as a boy soprano --- and he has degrees in law and music from Potchefstroom University. He went to England nearly ten years ago to study at the Royal College of Music and since then he has built a big reputation in opera and as a concert singer.

Accompanied at the piano by Bonita Ziegelmeier, who is on the staff of Kearsney College, he presented in Durban a programme that was well off the beaten track, with a strong emphasis on early twentieth century English music; not everybody’s cup of tea, but his sheer artistry carried a large audience with him all the way.

He has a relaxed, unaffected stage presence and a really big voice, powerful, accurate, resonant. He has the professional polish acquired with careful training: well-judged phrasing, a calm demeanour, and controlled dynamics, the strong tone sometimes dropping to a lovely pianissimo.

He opened with Ralph Vaughan-Williams’s nine Songs of Travel, written between 1901 and 1904, atmospheric pieces of varied mood. They were delivered with authority and affection. Bonita Ziegelmeier was a discreet and accomplished piano partner here, as she was throughout the evening.

Moving to the different world of late German romanticism, Jacques Imbrailo sang three songs by Richard Strauss with emotion and style.

Then came another change of scene with Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonnets¸ written in 1839 and better known as piano solos. This beautiful music breathes the spirit of Renaissance Italy, and Imbrailo extracted full value from its long melodic lines.

Finally we were given six songs from the cycle called A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth, who was killed in the First World War at the age of 31. They are settings of poems by A.E. Housman and they are poignant, elegant, and melancholy, in a way a summation of the composer’s brief life.

I don’t think the audience went home after this concert humming the tunes, but they will remember the singer.

The prelude performers of the evening were staff and pupils from Kearsney College, instrumentalist and singers, performing Bach and traditional Christmas songs.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


15th November 2012 - Inon Barnatan (Piano)

Inon Barnatan, born in Tel Aviv 33 years ago, has achieved a big international reputation since he moved to New York in 2006, and listening to him in Durban it was easy to hear why.

Playing for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre he showed that he is not only a virtuoso with an impeccable technique but that he is also a sensitive and poetic interpreter of the music he presents.

He is also an engaging and unpretentious personality.

His choice of programme – Debussy, Mendelssohn, Ravel and Schubert -- revealed his temperament. This was music for the connoisseur, difficult and taxing but not empty showmanship.

He opened with Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, four pieces written about 1890, when the composer was a young man. One of them, Clair de Lune, Moonlight, is very famous. The others are seldom played. They are delightful and they were performed by Inon Barnatan with delicacy and sympathy.

The came a very well-known work, Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso. The main part, the rondo, was marked Presto, very fast, by the composer. I have never heard it played faster. Barnatan has an exceptional keyboard technique, and he used it to dazzling effect in this lovely, graceful music. It took my breath away, a member of the audience said to me afterwards. Yes.

More mind-boggling virtuosity came with Ravel’s La Valse, the composer’s piano transcription of his celebrated orchestral work. This was a brilliant and totally compelling performance.

The main work of the evening was Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D. 959 (the D stands for Otto Deutsch, who classified all Schubert’s works about 70 years ago).

Schubert wrote about 20 piano sonatas and they were sadly neglected for many years. In recent times they have, however, been recognised for the masterpieces they are. The three last sonatas, his finest, were written only a few months before his death in 1828 at the age of 31.

D.959 is the penultimate sonata and it is a wonderful work. The strong, decisive opening Allegro is followed by a melancholy Andantino that develops into intense drama. Then comes a bouncing Scherzo and, finally, a Rondo that is a long, unending stream of beautiful melody (the main tune was a favourite with Schubert; he used it in another sonata).

This long sonata – it runs for about 40 minutes – was given a commanding interpretation by Inon Barnatan. He played with power and authority and with superb tonal contrasts. It was a privilege to listen to this performance.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Elisabeth Manduell, a 17-year-old pupil at Durban Girls’ College. She played the flute, performing a piece by Albert Roussel, and sang songs by Gabriel Faure and Edith Piaf (La Vie en Rose), all displaying talent and high promise.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


23rd October 2012 - Maxine Matthews and David Salleras (saxophone), Christopher Duigan (piano)

The saxophone has come a long way since the Belgian Adolphe Sax invented it in 1846.
His intention was to produce something between a woodwind and a brass instrument, something that would sound good in military bands. It popularity spread rapidly. Jazz musicians took to the saxophone like ducks to water, and since the twentieth century it has been used quite extensively by classical composers, including Debussy, Hindemith, Ravel, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Milhaud, Villa-Lobos and Glazunov.

In spite of all this a classical saxophone recital is a rarity in the concert hall, and a performance by two saxophone players is even more unusual. This was the attractive musical fare offered to the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre when the saxophonists Maxine Matthews and David Salleras joined forces with the pianist Christopher Duigan.

Maxine Matthews is a young South African and is due to further her studies in the United States next year. David Salleras is Spanish and an experienced performer. Christopher Duigan is of course a South African based in Pietermaritzburg.

Their programme consisted mainly of music that is not well known. They started with a lively composition by Jules Demersseman (1833-1866), a Frenchman who was an early saxophone enthusiast, and continued with a three-movement trio by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963).

This was a transcription of a work originally written for piano, oboe and bassoon, and it was typically Poulenc music: sophisticated, witty, tuneful, frisky. It was most enjoyable.
David Salleras, who comes from Barcelona, contributed two of his own works for solo saxophone, both clever novelties which showed his mastery of his instrument. They had a Spanish flavour and one was accompanied by foot-stamping by the player.

The three performers jointly presented pieces by Astor Piazzolla, the Brazilian king of the tango, and by Jean-Baptiste Singelee, a nineteenth century Belgian composer who was a friend of Adolphe Sax. And Maxine Matthews and Christopher Duigan played two movement of Darius Milhaud’s well-known Scaramouche suite.

High points of the concert were brilliant piano solos from Christopher Duigan: Ravel’s Alborado del gracioso and the three Danzas Argentinas by Alberto Ginastera, who died in 1983.

The prelude performer of the evening was a young trumpeter, Celukuthula Ngema. Accompanied by Bobbie Mills at the piano, he showed skill and poise in playing two movements of a delightful trumpet concerto by the Austrian composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837).

-- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


16th October 2012 - Konstantin Scherbakov (Piano)

The Russian pianist Konstantin Scherbakov, who now lives in Switzerland, has built a big reputation as a specialist in virtuoso music that is off the beaten track. At the age of 49 he has played in 35 different countries and he has, so far, produced 34 CDs, may of them under the Naxos label.

Playing for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre he gave a remarkable demonstration of his prowess at the keyboard. In a programme devoted mainly to music by Liszt, with some by Schubert, he played very difficult works with great power, speed and accuracy, the total result being one of the most remarkable recitals we have had in Durban for a long time.

He opened with a rarity, Schubert’s Grazer Fantasie. It was written in 1818 but the score was lost and discovered only in 1962. It was first published in 1971. This was the only piece on the programme that was not a virtuoso display. It begins with a gentle Schubertian melody and works up some steam with a polonaise-style development. Lovely music and very well played.

More Schubert followed, the well-known Wanderer Fantasy, so named because Schubert used his own song The Wanderer as a main theme. Scherbakov played, I think, Liszt’s edition of the fantasy, with additions and elaborations. He handled the many technical and interpretative difficulties with aplomb; not the least of his merits is a calm demeanour at the keyboard.

After the interval came the big virtuoso music, starting with an extraordinary arrangement by Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz of Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre.

Then came Liszt’s imposing and ambitious transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod, from Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. One might think that this essentially orchestral and vocal music would defy transition to the keyboard, but no musical venture was too bold for Franz Liszt, and this arrangement is dramatic and compelling.

Liszt’s Totentanz, Dance of Death, made a loud and brilliant end to the programme. An interesting piece this. Written in 1849, it is based on the mediaeval chant Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) and contains, in its diabolical intensity, many glimpses into the future music of the twentieth century.

Konstantin Scherbakov gave a tremendous performance that brought the audience to their feet at the end.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were a group of a cappella (unaccompanied) singers from Durban High School: Mthokozisi Hlela, S’bonelo Dlamini, Haydn Henning and Maqhawe Madonsela.

They showed good balance and control in songs by Gershwin, John David and a traditional Plea for Africa.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


4th September 2012 - Fidelio Trio

An evening of exceptional musical pleasure was provided by the Fidelio Trio when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish centre.

The members of the trio are English, Scottish and Irish, and they are based in London, but they have South African connections going back several years. Mary Dullea, the pianist, was a music lecturer at the University of KZN, Darragh Morgan (violin) was a member of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, and Robin Michael (cello) played as a soloist in South Africa for the first time in 2004.

They have achieved much success abroad as chamber players, and this latest concert showed that their taste in music matches their high skills. A wide-ranging programme opened with Beethoven’s Trio in E flat major, Op 1, No. 1, surely one of the most remarkable of all Opus Ones. Beethoven was about 23 when he wrote it, and the audience at the first performance, in Prince Karl Lichnowsky’s house in Vienna in 1795, must have been very surprised. The scherzo in particular must have shown them that they were entering a new world of sound.

This wonderfully bold and original work by Beethoven was given a spirited and perceptive performance by the Fidelio Trio. They showed the mutual understanding and rapport created by a long association, and indeed this close sense of ensemble was apparent throughout the concert.

Next on the programme was the Piano Trio in D minor by Gabriel Faure, written in 1924 when this refined and subtle French composer was 78 years old. Another outstanding composition, this, and Mary Dullea in particular excelled in Faure’s distinctive rippling and melodious piano part.

After the interval came a rich, romantic novelty, a transcription by Saint-Saens of Liszt’s well-known Orpheus symphonic poem for orchestra.

And finally we had Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor, written almost exactly a hundred years after the Beethoven trio that opened the concert. Arensky, a Russian, died of tuberculosis in 1906, aged 44. He has never really received due recognition of his talents. He wrote unusually attractive music, including this trio (and some lovely works for two pianos).

Here, as in the rest of the programme, the Fidelio Trio performed the music with commitment and insight, and they were rewarded with prolonged applause at the end.
The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were the soprano Lauren Dassappa and the baritone/bass Azola Mabutho. Accompanied at the piano by Andrew Warburton, they made a good impression as they sang music by Puccini, Richard Rodgers and Mozart.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


21st August 2012 - Marc Uys (violin) and Laura Pauna (piano)

Two South African musicians who have won big reputations abroad were the performers at the latest Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre. They were the violinist Marc Uys, who comes from Pietermaritzburg and now lives in New York, and the pianist Laura Pauna, who comes from Romania, has spent much time in South Africa, and is now studying further at Hannover, Germany.

They gave a programme that ranged from Mozart (one of the master’s early sonatas) to the late twentieth century (music written by the American John Williams for the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick).

The Mozart Sonata in G major, K. 301, was predictably graceful, elegant and melodious. It brought forth a well-balanced, accomplished performance from both players, with the pianist’s assertive personality contrasting with the calm poise of the violinist.

Richard Strauss’s Sonata in E flat is not, I think, very well known. It dates from 1888. It is a virtuoso work and is a fine example of Strauss’s rich harmonies and romantic ardour, especially in the improvisatory middle movement.

The pianist was dominant throughout this performance. Laura Pauna has a demonstrative, forceful keyboard demeanour and a big tone, and she revelled in Strauss’s virtuoso flourishes, so much so that the violinist sometimes seemed consigned to a secondary role.

Marc Uys came to deserved prominence in the Romance by the American composer Amy Beach (1867-1944), in which he produced from his violin a lovely, sweet, fluent melodic line.

Then came a sonata written in 1994 by the Cape Town composer Peter Klatzow. This was a challenging work in the modern idiom, difficult for listeners at a first hearing, with a lilting and tuneful Allegretto the most accessible of its three movement. The playing was first-rate throughout.

The performance of an attractively piquant arrangement by the Czech violinist Vasa Prihoda of Strauss’s Rosenkavalier music was interrupted when the violinist had the misfortune to snap a string, a mishap caused by Durban’s humidity, he said.
The audience was small, about 50 people, and it shrank perceptibly at the interval. I think some people were probably deterred by the programme. Presenting the unfamiliar is an unrewarding exercise if so few people turn up.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was a very small and very good pianist, 10-year-old Rachel Wedderburn-Maxwell of Durban. In short pieces by Diabelli, Piazolla, the Japanese composer Yoshinao Nakada and the South African Hans Roosenschoon she showed a technical skill that was remarkable in one so young, and an equally impressive musicality. She should go far.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


7th August 2012 - Three’s Company

Three’s Company was the somewhat jaunty title given to a programme of very serious trio music at the latest Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The performers were David Smith (piano and harpsichord), who is professor of opera the University of KZN; Geza Kayser (violin), a member of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra; and Liuben Gadev (cello), also a member of the KZNPO.

They are all accomplished players, and they presented a programme well off the beaten track: two works from the early eighteenth century, two from the mid-twentieth century.

They opened with a sonata for violin and harpsichord by the Italian composer Corelli (1653-1713), whose parents optimistically gave him the first name Arcangelo, archangel.

This was a delightful composition, elegant and melodious, but not really comparable with the next item, J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 5 in F minor for violin and harpsichord. This sonata, one of a set of six written about 1720, is not a particularly well-known work, but Johann Sebastian’s great genius makes it fascinating, eloquent and memorable from start to finish.

This beautiful music was played with great skill and style, with the cellist joining the violinist and harpsichordist in this performance.

After the interval came the contrast, the Trio No. 1 (also called Five Short Pieces) by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959). This vigorous, strongly rhythmical and sometimes rather abrasive music appears to be rooted in Bohemian folk music. It was played with power and conviction, and David Smith, at the piano this time, was outstanding in articulating the complex and difficult keyboard part.

Finally, we had another dominant figure in Dmitri Shostakovich. His Piano Trio No.2, Op. 67, was written during the Second World War and reflects the tension and tragedy of the time. It is compelling music, especially the slow movement and the finale, which has clear references to Jewish folk music, and the players were in fine form throughout.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were the 15 members of the Durban Girls’ College Orchestra, 11 strings, three woodwind and a pianist.

Trained and conducted by Ted Brien they played pieces by Brahms, Bartok and Albeniz with enthusiasm and talent. It is good to know that, at some of our schools anyway, the arts of music are being cultivated and developed.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


17th July 2012 - Bronwen Forbay, Randall Umstead, Ryan Prijic, Stephen Pierce.

One of Durban’s favourite daughters, the soprano Bronwen Forbay, who now lives in the United States, delighted a large audience when she made one of her regular visits to her home town.

The occasion was a Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre, and Bronwen appeared with three other musicians: her husband, the American tenor Randall Umstead;  Ryan Prijic, American violinist;  and Stephen Pierce, South African pianist who is now a university teacher in the United States.

These four gifted people presented a distinctly unusual programme ranging from the early eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth.  Much of the music was probably unfamiliar to most of the listeners, but the artistry of the performers generated great enthusiasm in the audience.

Randall Umstead (tenor), with Ryan Prijic (violin) and Stephen Pierce (piano) opened with two splendid songs by Handel, from his “Nine German Arias”.  Written about 1725, they were apparently popular in Handel’s time, being sung from hand-written copies, but, amazingly, they were not published until 1921.

Randall Umstead displayed a full, pure tenor, delivered with a pleasantly unmannered, unaffected style. Most enjoyable, and the violinist and pianist gave admirable support.

The two instrumentalists played an important part throughout the concert. They accompanied Bronwen Forbay in three beautiful songs by Richard Strauss:    Standchen (Serenade), Morgen (Tomorrow) and Kling (Ring).  These provided one of the high points of the evening, lovely singing and lovely delicate playing from the pianist.

The performers moved into little-known territory with “As Dew in April”, a reconstruction of fifteenth century music by the American composer Richard Cumming (1928-2009), and Four Songs for Soprano, Violin and Piano by the Englishman Arthur Bliss (1891-1975).

All the works played were introduced with pleasant informality by the performers themselves, in brief comments that were instructive and amusing.

Massenet’s well-known Elegie for tenor, and two duets for tenor and soprano by Gabriel Faure completed the first half of the programme.

After the interval Bronwen Forbay gave a delicious performance of one of her favourites, the captivating Afrikaans song Kom dans Klaradyn, by S. le Roux Marais, and for good measure she added two other delightful Afrikaans songs by Marais and P.J. Lemmer.

Ryan Prijic and Stephen Pierce turned their attention to more serious matters with a fine performance of a fine work, Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, written in 1917, the year before the composer’s death. 

And finally we had all four performers in selections from Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Wesley Lewis, a clarinet student at the University of KZN. Accompanied at the piano by Jacques Heyns, he showed skill and assurance in playing Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


26th June 2012 - Kathleen Tagg (piano)

The Friends of Music recital this week featured the pianist, Dr Kathleen Tagg. A graduate of the University of Cape Town and multiple award winner, Dr Tagg enjoys a versatile and exciting international career as soloist, chamber musician, collaborative musician, and musical director.

Her programme, entitled “The Virtuoso Performing Composer”, featured works by Mozart, Brahms, Liszt, Ravel and Gershwin, all composers that were themselves great pianists of their time. While Dr Tagg’s performance was not, as one might expect from this title, all “fire-and-brimstone display”, her approach was essentially a musical one. Along with comments to the audience she revealed an intense and deeply felt appreciation for and stylistic understanding of the music she presented, her effortless technique giving her complete command of the instrument.

It was a programme with a difference comprising mainly “collections” of smaller character pieces, and, with excellent and explicate programme notes to guide one through these gems, focussed listening brought much musical satisfaction and enjoyment.

The Prelude Performer, 15 year old Ayesha Seedat, played her pieces with confidence and aplomb, the Theme from Schlindler’s List, in particular, beautifully expressive.

--- Barbara Trofimczyk


12nd June 2012 - Avigail Bushakevitz (violin) and Ammiel Bushakevitz (piano)

When the violinist Avigail Bushakevitz first played in Durban nearly ten years ago she was a schoolgirl who showed great musical promise.

She is now an accomplished and mature artist, as is her brother, the pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz. This was absolutely clear from their latest appearance for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. In a wide-ranging programme of music that would have been mainly unfamiliar to the audience, they demonstrated high technical skills, interpretative insight, and the rapport one would expect from siblings two years apart.

They were both born in Israel, she in 1988, he in 1986, but moved to South Africa with their parents when they were very young and grew up at George, in the Western Cape.

Musical education in South Africa was followed by lengthy periods of study in the Untied States (Avigail) and Germany (Ammiel). They are now poised and experienced performers, confident in their abilities and pleasantly unmannered on the stage.

They opened their recital with Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D. 574, an ineffably melodious and blissful kind of composition, especially the first movement. It was played with grace and fluency, and with the singing cantabile tone appropriate for Schubert’s lyricism.

Then, in complete contrast, came Bartok’s second violin and piano sonata, a two-movement work. Written 90 years ago it is still challenging to listen to, with its harsh dissonances and relentless rhythms. It was played with virtuoso skill, from both performers, and, predictably, it elicited a mixed response from members of the audience. “Lovely and exciting”, said a man near me. “Just noise”, said the person sitting next to him.

It is worth noting perhaps that, in all the works on the programme, the performers were equal partners; there was no question of the pianist being an “accompanist”.
After the interval came the beautiful romantic Poeme by Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), better known in its original version for violin and orchestra; a typically attractive Meditation by Tchaikovsky; and a vigorous five-movement Partita written in the modern style by the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994).

In response to prolonged applause the performers played a lively short piece by Bartok.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Brett Alborough, an accomplished clarinet player who is a Masters student in music at the University of KZN. With Jacques Heyns at the piano he played Schumann’s three Fantasy Pieces, Op 73, high quality short works that are written, optionally, for clarinet or cello. A very good performance was warmly applauded.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


22nd May 2012 - Cellibrarion

The cello is a majestic instrument and it has many admirers in Durban, judging by the crowd that turned up at the Durban Jewish Centre for a Friends of Music concert entitled Cellibration.

This was an evening dominated by the cello, and an exceptionally large audience, about 180 people, responded with great enthusiasm to a programme offering a wide variety of music.

The nine performers, all members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, were six cellists, plus important contributions from the violin, viola and percussion. The leading figure in all this was Boris Kerimov, principal cellist of the KZNPO, who took part in all 13 items on the programme and made many of the arrangements for cello on that programme.

He opened the concert with a 15-minute Suite for solo cello, unaccompanied, by the twentieth century Spanish composer Gaspar Cassado, a challenging work for the performer and, to some degree, for the audience. It is Bach-like in form and style but very Spanish in content, with obvious references to folk music. It was played with great skill and assurance.

Boris Kerimov was joined by his wife Elena Kerimova (violin) and David Snaith (viola) for a performance of Beethoven’s String Trio in D, Op. 9, No. 2. The five Beethoven string trios are lovely works, not played very often, written by the composer when he was quite young but having the unmistakable imprint of his genius. This one was beautifully played, with precise and accurate ensemble and some lovely sounds from Elena Kerimova’s violin.

After the interval it was all cello, with the addition at the end of a percussion element. The cellists were Boris Kerimov, Jennifer Cox, Nina Watson, Fiona Grayer, Marguerite Spies, and Ralitsa Todorova. They played 11 short pieces ranging from Vivaldi, Handel and Bach to Astor Piazzolla and the contemporary South African composer Allan Stephenson. It was all most enjoyable, and the exceptional tonal range of a cello was amply demonstrated, especially in an arrangement of a well-known song from Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Bachianas Brasileiras”.

Stephane Pechoux of the KZNPO’s percussion section joined the cellists for the last three items and almost stole the show at the end with a virtuoso hands and fingers performance on an extraordinary basin-shaped drum.

The audience rewarded the players with a standing ovation.

The prelude performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were Il Signori, a quartet of young Zulu male singers, who beguiled the audience with skilfully harmonised songs, the best being Tula Tula, a compilation of Zulu lullabies.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


1st May 2012 - Baroque 2000

Jean Jacques Rousseau, the political philosopher of eighteenth century Geneva (“Man is born free but is everywhere in chains”), was a composer of distinction, admired in his own time but little remembered in this context today.

To mark the 300th anniversary of his birth the Durban-based Baroque 2000 presented, in conjunction with the Friends of Music, a concert performance of Rousseau’s one-act opera Le Devin du Village, the Soothsayer of the Village. This was not an opera production; the venue was the Durban Jewish Centre and there were no costumes, sets or any attempts at acting. Nevertheless the three singers and the Baroque 2000, a 16-member chamber orchestra, gave a thoroughly enjoyable account of music that beguiled King Louis XV of France in 1752.

The story is simple. Colin and Colette love each other but each suspects the other, wrongly, of being unfaithful. They go to the village soothsayer, who eventually sorts out their problems, to a final rousing chorus of “La, la, la”, with members of the orchestra cheerfully joining in.

The music is light, tuneful, effervescent, not particularly memorable but very attractive. Lauren Dassappa, who is apparently the only Indian soprano in the country, sang the role of Colette accurately and confidently. Azola Mabutho, a bass-baritone who is a student at the University of KZN, presented the part of the soothsayer with a powerful and expressive voice that should develop further in due course. The role of Colin was taken by Warren Vernon-Driscoll, a Kearsney College pupil. He displayed a pleasant light, well-trained tenor. He too should develop further as his voice matures.
All three singers sat at the side of the auditorium taking centre stage as needed, and they sang holding scores and turning pages. Sensibly enough, they did not try to create any visual sense of opera.

The Baroque 2000 players are nearly all members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, skilled professionals, and they played the vigorous orchestral part with zest and obvious enjoyment. A good-sized audience rewarded the performers with enthusiastic applause at the end.

Earlier the chamber orchestra played Concerto Grosso No. 12 by Giovanni Henrico Albicastro (1670-1738), a stylish example of baroque music with a particularly eloquent slow movement. Albicastro’s curriculum vitae is as interesting as his music. He was a German named Heinrich von Biswang who changed to Albicastro because of the popularity of Italian musicians. He was a soldier, serving as a cavalry officer for a dozen years, and he was also a virtuoso violinist. An all-rounder, you might say.

The prelude performers of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were two more young violinists with eastern origins. Erina Nishii (aged 14) and Emiri Nishii (9) are sisters who come from Japan and are now pupils at Crawford College, La Lucia. They were almost the stars of the evening as they played music by, of all composers, Shostakovich, a delightful three-movement duet, and the well-known Meditation from Massenet’s Thais.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


10th April 2012 - Beverley Chiat (soprano), Liesl Stoltz (flute) and Christopher Duigan (piano)

Bird songs at eventide could have been the title for this concert of delightful music from the unusual trio of soprano, flute and piano. Playing for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre, the three performers showed great skill and artistry in presenting a programme of largely unfamiliar music.

Beverley Chiat and Liesl Stoltz are from Cape Town. Christopher Duigan is a KZN man. In a programme of 14 items ranging from the early-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth they performed in every possible combination of their three roles, and did so with admirable rapport.

Most of the music was in some way related to birds or to Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and a piper of note. The trio opened with a work written by Handel in 1740, a nightingale song from an oratorio based on Milton’s poem L’Allegro. In effect this is a duet for flute and coloratura soprano, and the quality of the singer and flautist was clear from the outset.

Flautist and pianist then performed a three-movement sonata, “The Flute of Pan”, by the French composer Jules Mouquet (1867-1946). This turned out to be a very attractive, elegant, non-abrasive work, with plenty of Gallic humour and wit. Very good playing from Liesl Stoltz, and Christopher Duigan was a discreet and sympathetic collaborator, as he was throughout the evening.

Then we had the pianist as soloist, in one of Schumann’s best-known pieces, the enigmatic and mystical Vogel als Prophet, Bird as Prophet. This was followed by a leap into our own time and place with Pan and the Nightingale, a short work for solo, unaccompanied, flute by the South African composer Stefans Grové.

We left the birds briefly with a lovely performance by Beverley Chiat of Caro Nome from Verdi’s Rigoletto, a reminder that this singer has a big reputation as an opera soprano.

Then came Olivier Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir (The black bird) for flute and piano; Ravel’s Oiseaux tristes (Sad birds) from his five Miroirs for solo piano; Rossignol (Nightingale) by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) for the very unusual combination of flute and soprano, no piano; and a lovely little piece by Saint-Saens called The Invisible Flute.

Three Hebrew songs, poignant, emotional, lyrical, were presented by Beverley Chiat with beautiful tone and affectionate interpretation, and short works by Debussy and Delibes ended a highly successful concert.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was William Chin, yet another talented violinist of eastern origins. He is an 18-year-old pupil at Clifton College in Durban, and he showed skill and confidence, especially in the well-known Czardas by Vittorio Monti.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


20th March 2012 - Libor Novacek (Piano)

Several excellent pianists have played in Durban in recent weeks, and the latest is well up to the standard set by the others. He is Libor Novacek, a 34-year-old Czech who is building a big reputation in many parts of the world and is on his fourth visit to South Africa.

In a recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre he demonstrated great virtuosity and a bold interpretative view of the music he was playing. He began with Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No. 3, a splendid early (1796) work by the master.

Like all professional pianists these days, Novacek has an impeccable technique, and he used this to express an exceptionally dynamic and full-blooded performance of the music. It was a most enjoyable account of a familiar work, and the audience rewarded him with prolonged applause.

The late piano works of Brahms are perhaps not played as often as they should be, and the seven Fantasias of his Op.116 made a welcome appearance on the programme. The three fast items in the set are labelled Capriccio and the four quieter numbers Intermezzo. The Intermezzi include two of the most beautiful pieces in the entire piano repertory.

Libor Novacek then played two pieces by his Czech compatriot Leos Janacek (1854-1928) from a set rather quaintly named On an Overgrown Path. The music seemed to have its roots in folk music; it was distinctive and pleasantly ruminative.

Novacek is a specialist in the music of Franz Liszt, and he completed his programme with Liszt’s massive Sonata in B minor, written in 1853.

This is a much-admired composition, perhaps because it is audible and visible evidence of Liszt’s phenomenal powers as a pianist. Some people have reservations about the sonata, but it is undeniably impressive. Novacek extracted full value from it, with thundering octaves, fleet fingerwork and some beautiful playing in the lyrical passages.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Nina Emilia Basnec, a young oboist from Germany who is now studying in Durban. She showed considerable skill in playing a lively and attractive Concerto for Oboe by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751).

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


13th March 2012 - Alexander Lubyantsev (Piano)

The 26-year-old Russian pianist Alexander Lubyantsev was given a standing ovation by a large audience when he had completed an outstanding recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

In a programme ranging from Haydn to Ravel he demonstrated a remarkable keyboard technique combined with an unfailing interpretative insight into the music he was playing.

He comes from a musical family, to put it mildly; back home in St Petersburg his father, mother and four sisters are all professional musicians. No doubt his natural gifts were able to flourish in this environment.

He opened with a Haydn sonata, a typically original and vigorous work from this great composer, played with fluency and grace.

One of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux (study-pictures) followed, written in 1917, difficult to play and rather modern in style, possibly an eye-opener to those who tend to belittle the music of this Russian master.

Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1, was another interesting choice on the programme. It is a big work, not typical of most of the 21 nocturnes that Chopin wrote. Here the pianist’s dynamic inflections between pianissimo, very soft, and fortissimo, very loud, were most impressive.

Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 produced an astonishing display of virtuosity. This is one of the most difficult pieces in the repertory, but Alexander Lubyantsev’s calm keyboard demeanour was hardly ruffled as his fingers raced up and down and his hands delivered rapid octaves. A truly exciting performance that brought the audience to a pitch of enthusiasm.

Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 110, the 31st of his 32 piano sonatas, offered music of a very different kind. It was by some distance the major work of the evening, and here the pianist showed his good musical judgment, playing with deliberation and with restraint. The sonata’s brilliant final fugue was a triumph.

Finally, extreme virtuosity returned in Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, three descriptive pieces that are exceptionally taxing for the pianist, especially the third, Scarbo, the impish dwarf. They were another huge success for the pianist and a delight for the audience.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was the viola-player Emily Bishai, an American girl who is a pupil at St Henry’s Marist College in Durban. Accompanied by Bobby Mills at the piano, she played two movements of a sonata by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767).

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


14th February 2012 - Mirijam Contzen (Violin) and Bryan Wallick (Piano)

Two young virtuoso performers presented a programme well off the beaten track when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The German-Japanese violinist Mirijam Contzen and the American pianist Bryan Wallick have in recent years established, independently, big international reputations, and they offered a connoisseur’s concert to an enthusiastic audience. They are both tall and slender, and they make an interesting contrast in styles. She has an uninhibited, joyful, flamboyant approach to playing the violin. He is an upright, rather restrained figure at the keyboard, but with hands and fingers that meet every challenge of the music.

The four items on the programme would, I think have been unfamiliar to many of the listeners, and the players revealed the music’s charms and beauties with great skill and insight.

They opened with Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F major, a work that testifies to the fluent melodic gifts of this composer (who was, incidentally, Queen Victoria’s favourite composer). After a period of relative neglect Mendelssohn seems to be gaining in critical esteem these days, and rightly so. This sonata, written in 1838, remained unpublished for more than a hundred years until the violinist Yehudi Menuhin revived it in 1952. It is a delightful work, cheerful, positive, effervescent, and the players extracted full value from it.

Debussy’s Violin Sonata is a late work, completed in 1917, only a year before the composer’s death from cancer at the age of 55. It has been criticised as being rather sterile, the work of a fatigued and dying man, but it has much of interest, especially in the eloquent slow movement.

Schumann’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 121, is another late work, dating from 1851 (the composer died in 1856, in a mental home). It is tuneful and expertly laid out for both instruments. I liked best the third movement, a set of gracious variations based on a pizzicato theme introduced by the violin.

Finally we were given a brilliant account of Ravel’s Tzigane, an unusual and successful essay in Hungarian gypsy music by this essentially French composer. Mirijam Contzen had ample opportunity to display her abilities in the long solo passage at the beginning and she did so triumphantly.

There was an encore: the Melodie (Dance of the Blessed Spirits) from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice, written in 1762. It came like a draught of cool spring water.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


7th February 2012 - Cristina Ortiz (Piano)

Cristina Ortiz, an authentic international celebrity, gave a memorable recital at the Durban Jewish Centre for the Friends of Music.

This Brazilian pianist, who is now based in London, has built an imposing reputation over the past 30 years. She has played with major orchestras and famous conductors in many cities of Europe, America and the East, and she is very highly regarded as a solo recital player and as a recording artist, presenting a repertoire that encompasses a particularly broad range of music.

In her Durban programme she included works by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Brahms, her compatriot Villa-Lobos and another Brazilian composer, Guarnieri, and she was rewarded with an enthusiastic response from a large audience.

She opened with Mozart’s well-known Fantasie in D minor, K.397, and then moved to Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses. This set of 17 “serious” variations, written in 1841, is not played very often. It is a splendid work, of great variety and virtuosity, and Cristina Ortiz’s performance was a high point of her recital. She is a strong, passionate pianist with a formidable technique, and her playing of this Mendelssohn was sheer delight from beginning to end.

Then came four items from the second set, Op. 25, of Chopin’s Etudes. The word means “Studies”, a rather mundane description for wonderful music that is both poetic and brilliant. They were played here with great vigour and commitment.

After the interval Cristina Ortiz gave us five of Brahms’s late Intermezzi, introspective compositions which the composer described as children of his old age. Lovely music, beautifully played.

Finally, the pianist delivered some spectacular pieces from her homeland, Brazil. Two, characterised by a rich harmonic texture, were by Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993). His parents must have been either reverent or ambitious about music; they named their four sons Mozart, Rossini, Bellini and Verdi.

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is Brazil’s most famous composer, and he was represented here by a slightly melancholy waltz and by a showpiece which was played by Cristina Ortiz with extraordinary brilliance.

As an encore she gave the first of Debussy’s two Arabesques.

The KZN Philharmonic Orchestra begins a new season of symphony concerts in the Durban City Hall on Thursday February 16, and the pre-concert lectures arranged by the Friends of Music and the KZNPO will be resumed at a new venue, 1st floor, Albany Hotel, Smith/Anton Lembede St, opposite the City Hall.

The lectures are from 6.15 to 7 p.m., ending in time to walk across the road to the City Hall concert, and tea, coffee and sandwiches are served from about 5.45. The charge is R30. I will be giving the first lecture, on music by Ravel, Lalo and Berlioz.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)


31st January 2012 - Yasutaka Hemmi (Violin) and Takayo Matsumura (Harp)

Japs Duo was the rather breezy title given to this recital by two Japanese musicians for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

In recent years we have been accustomed, through recorded music, to hearing many
excellent string players from Japan, but almost invariably they have been playing western music.  These two performers gave us some well-known music from old Europe, but in addition they devoted part of their programme to Japanese music, an unusual experience for most of the audience (though the KZNPO did play not long ago a work by Toru Takemitsu).

This Friends of Music concert attracted an unusually large audience, about 150 people, and they responded enthusiastically.  Both players are obviously highly skilled artists.  This was clear from the opening piece, the Meditation from Massenet’s opera Thais.  This was followed by a lengthy virtuoso Fantaisie, Op. 124,  by Saint-Saens, the most interesting part being a passage in which a contrapuntal figure for the harp is set against pyrotechnics from the violin.

Then came a piece by the South African composer Michael Blake, Leaf Carrying Song, an enigmatic title for a rather enigmatic work.

The Japanese part of the programme started with a harp solo, Falling Cherry Blossoms, by Toshio Hosokawa.  This was rather solemn, with many pregnant pauses.  Minimalist, somebody sitting near me said.

Yasutaka Hemmi is a composer as well as a violinist, and he presented one of his own works, Minimashi Hoichi Fantasy, a rather macabre and ghostly kind of witches’ dance, strange but interesting, and brilliantly played.

The final Japanese item was in more popular vein, Jo Hisaishi’s Princess Mononoke, written as film music.

Finally the players turned to everybody’s favourites, two pieces by Fritz Kreisler and Vittorio Monti’s Czardas.  The Kreisler in particular revealed fully how very good a harpist Takayo Matsumura is.

The prelude performer of the evening was the 21-year-old soprano Camilla van der Merwe, who gave songs by Rachmaninov, Hugo Wolf and the nineteenth century Viennese composer of operettas Carl Zeller.  She is a poised and attractive singer who shows great promise.

A familiar figure at Friends of Music concerts over the years will no longer be with us.  The istinguished pianist Glyn Townley died recently in Durban at the age of 100.  In his prime he had 30 piano concertos and 700 solo works in his repertory, and he appeared 170 times as soloist with an orchestra, here and abroad. After his official retirement in 1982 he gave hundreds of free performances for senior citizens in retirement homes and villages.
At a concert some time ago I was discussing a piece of piano music with him and
remarked that  it was not as easy to play as it sounded.  “Nothing’s easy”, said Glyn.
Too true.

--- Michael Green (courtesy of artSMart)