Friends of Music Recitals 2015



1st December - Rising Stars

The annual Rising Stars concert organised by the Friends of Music provided, as usual, a platform for talented young performers from KwaZulu-Natal.

A big audience, mainly family and friends, attended the concert at the Durban Jewish Centre and gave enthusiastic applause to nine musicians aged between 16 and 18. All of them are either at school or have just finished school.

In a programme ranging from Bach to Lloyd Webber they showed that, notwithstanding the counter-attractions, classical music is alive and well among the youth of our part of the world.

Much credit is due to the South African Society of Music Teachers, who collaborated with the Friends of Music in presenting this concert, and to the parents who have supported and encouraged these students.

Sitting near me was a man who had driven from Mtunzini, a two-hour journey each way, to hear his granddaughter play the flute, and her parents had come from Pietermaritzburg.

The level, of performance was generally good, with the players showing skill, poise and, in some cases, a touch of glamour!

The performers were:
Nathalie Hartman, singer, from Northlands Girls’ High School, Durban.
Joshua Stapleton, piano, from Ashton International College, Ballito.
Tumelo Zondi, singer, from Eden College, Durban.
Morgan Rowland, flute, from Wykeham Collegiate, Pietermaritzburg.
Ané Dippenaar, singer, from George Campbell High School, Durban.
Sarah Camp, cello, from St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls, Kloof.
Courtney Perrett, piano, from Durban Girls’ College.
Arliya Peters, singer, from Northlands Girls’ High.
Kirsten Moody, flute, from Wykeham Collegiate.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


10th November - Kayser Quartet and David Smith, piano

We have many fine musicians in KwaZulu-Natal but we do not have very many performances of chamber music. And it was therefore a special pleasure to hear quartets by two great composers in the latest concert of the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Music by Beethoven and Schumann was played the Kayser Quartet, with David Smith at the piano. The quartet consists of Geza Kayser and Jitske Brien, violin; Claire Hamilton, viola; and Nigel Fish, cello. All four are strongly associated with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, and all are outstanding players. David Smith is well known as a chamber pianist and as a music professor at the University of Natal.

Beethoven was represented by the first of his 16 string quartets, the quartet in F major Op.18 No.1, written in 1800. This work has a dark, sad slow movement, said to be based on a scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but it is mainly energetic and bold.

The performance was first-rate, balanced, precise and eloquent.

The other big work on the programme was Robert Schumann’s piano quintet, Op. 44, which dates from 1842 and is the first work ever written for piano and string quartet. This is a wonderfully varied composition, romantic, robust, sombre, lively.

The string players responded splendidly to its many challenges, and David Smith gave an impressive performance in the often complex piano part.

Between these two masterworks the quartet played a composition by David Kosviner, who was born in Johannesburg 58 years ago, lived in Germany for 25 years and is now based in Vienna. The work, entitled Zorniger Frieden, Angry Peace, turned out to be, in my opinion, peculiar and perverse, and void of any discernible melody.

The listeners seemed to be irritated or amused. The performance was no doubt competent, but if there were a hundred wrong notes nobody in the audience would have known.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Commission, was Shruti Teeluck, a 17-year-old pupil at Northlands. She played western and Indian music on the violin (Grieg) and sitar (a piece composed by her father, Vaishnav Teeluck). In the latter she was accompanied at the tabla drums by her younger brother, Shanjeet Teeluck. Quite a family affair.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


20th October - Two Guitars - James Grace and Morgan Szymanski

A solo classical guitar recital is something of a rarity; a recital by two guitarists is even less usual. This was the fare presented at the latest Friends of Music concert in the Durban Jewish Centre, and it turned out to be an evening of lovely, refined music.

The performers were James Grace, a South African who is with the University of Cape Town, and Morgan Szymanski, a 36-year-old Mexican. Both are graduates of the Royal College of Music in London.

Both are highly accomplished guitarists. Guitar playing is an individualist art, and the obvious problem with two performers is one of co-ordination. This was completely overcome in this recital, especially in the best-known item on the programme, Francisco Tarrega’s Memories of the Alhambra, arranged for two guitars. The difficult tremolo passages were played with great precision and empathy, and the result was a memorable performance.

Most of the seven items on the programme came from Spain and Latin America, the exception being an attractive, tuneful Duo by the eighteenth century Italian composer Ferdinando Carulli.

Manuel de Falla’s celebrated Spanish Dance from his opera La Vie Breve was given a lively performance, and in more sentimental and romantic mood we had two twentieth century compositions from Mexico, Julio Cesar Oliva’s Suite Montebello and a three-piece suite by Manuel M. Ponce. This latter work provided an impressionist atmosphere and a delightful Scherzino that seemed familiar to many members of the audience.

Finally we had music by two contemporary Brazilian composers, Celso Machado and Paulo Bellinati, melodious and rhythmical, including some hand-drumming on the guitars.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was Janice Atkinson, a 21-year flautist who is a music student. Accompanied at the piano by Dana Hadjiev, she played a flute sonata by the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). Its three movements run for a total of less than 15 minutes. Janice displayed skills of a professional standard in this cool, concise and sophisticated music.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


13th October - Vitaly Pisarenko, piano

A remarkable display of extreme piano virtuosity was given by Vitaly Pisarenko when he played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

A few days earlier this 28-year-old Russian pianist had created something of a sensation with his performance of Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor concerto with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. Word of his prowess had obviously gone around, and a large audience turned up for his solo recital at the Jewish Centre. They were not disappointed.

He opened with the most conventional item on his programme, Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, Op. 13. This splendid work was played with immaculate technique and well-judged tonal contrasts, plenty of speed and vigour but no banging. The famous song-like middle movement produced smiles of appreciation in the audience.

Three pieces from Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs, mirrors intended to reflect the personalities of some of his artistic friends of a century ago, brought forth more brilliant playing. Ravel’s cool, elegant, sculptured music was delivered with immaculate technique. A high point was the celebrated Alborado del gracioso, the morning song of a jester, with effortless glissandi (sliding the fingers quickly over the keys) from the pianist.

Thundering virtuosity of a very different kind came with Franz Liszt’s transcription of the well-known Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens. This is something of a rarity in the concert hall, which is not surprising; it is exceptionally difficult. High-speed octaves in both hands were as impressive to see as they were to hear, and they roused the audience to a high pitch of enthusiasm.

Finally, Rachmaninov’s nine Etudes Tableaux, Op.39, “picture studies”, showed more keyboard dexterity, but this time of a more controlled and poetic type, with that touch of melancholy that characterises so much of Rachmaninov’s music.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Daniel Bedi, a 17-year-old pupil at Kearsney College. He played two contrasting piano pieces: Dizzy Fingers by the gifted American light composer Zez Confrey (1895 –1971) and the Nocturne No 20 in C sharp minor by Chopin.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


6th October - Hrachya Avanesyan (violin) and Pieter Jacobs (piano)

A programme of masterworks for violin and piano attracted a big audience to the Durban Jewish Centre for the latest concert of the Friends of Music

Two gifted performers were equal to the considerable technical demands of the music and gave a compelling presentation of its emotional and intellectual content.

Hrachya Avanesyan is a 29-year-old Armenian-born violinist who has built a big reputation in Europe and who won many admirers here in Durban a few weeks ago when he played Carl Nielsen’s violin concerto with the KZNPO.

The pianist in this Friends of Music recital was Pieter Jacobs of Pretoria, one of our best young players. He also has a doctorate in electronic engineering.

The high point of the evening was Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, written in 1803 and dedicated to a virtuoso named Rodolphe Kreutzer who didn’t like it and never played it. It is a magnificent work, long, intense, emotional, lyrical and bristling with difficulties.

Avanesyan and Jacobs gave a splendid performance, and perhaps it should be emphasised that the pianist is an equal partner, not an accompanist. The violinist was brilliant, so was the pianist.

The recital opened with Mozart’s lovely Rondo in C major K.373, and after the interval we had two contrasting works: Brahms’s Sonata No. 1 in G major and Ravel’s Sonata.

The Brahms, which dates from 1879, is typical of the genial warmth of the composer’s later works. The Ravel, written in 1927, is in the composer’s distinctive idiom and has the additional spice of jazz. Ravel was interested in American jazz and the middle movement of this sonata is called Blues.

Its jagged rhythms and sharp dissonances were delivered by the players with great skill and vigour, much to the enjoyment of the audience.

The evening’s prelude performer, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Nina Kolev, a violinist who is a pupil at St Mary’s School at Kloof. With Laura Rottcher at the piano she showed accomplishment and real promise in music by Beethoven and Max Bruch.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


8th September - Odeion String Quartet

An absolutely outstanding evening of chamber music was provided by the Odeion String Quartet from Bloemfontein when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

This quartet was formed 24 years ago at the University of the Free State, and it is the only full-time string quartet at a South African university.

The leader and first violinist is Samson Diamond, who is about 33 and whose background includes musical education in Johannesburg and Manchester, UK, and ensemble music in Soweto. The other players, all South Africans, are Sharon de Kock, violin, Jeanne-Louise Moolman, viola, and Anmari van der Westhuizen, cello.

They all excelled in a programme consisting of two lengthy works by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Tchaikovsky’s output of chamber music is fairly small, and his String Quartet No. 3 in E flat minor must have been an eye-opener to many in the Durban audience. It has a complex and varied first movement, a slow movement that is a funeral march for a dead friend, and a vigorously Russian finale.

All of this was presented with great skill, with Samson Diamond a particularly accomplished violinist and an authoritative leader.

Beethoven was represented by the second of his three Rasumovsky Quartets of Op. 59. The name comes from the Russian ambassador to Vienna, who was one of the composer’s supporters. It is a good example of someone who is remembered solely because of his association with Beethoven, others being Waldstein and Kreutzer.

This quartet is one of Beethoven’s many masterpieces in the genre. The Adagio in particular is hypnotically beautiful and is said to have stemmed from Beethoven’s contemplation of the night sky.

The players captured admirably the spirit and atmosphere of this composition. It may be invidious to single out individuals, but Anmari van der Westhuizen’s cello was often admirably expressive.

The audience responded with a standing ovation at the end.

The prelude performer of the evening , supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Arliya Robin Peters, a 17-year-old pupil at Northlands Girls’ High School. She sang three items, accompanying herself at the piano and on the guitar.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


11th August - Two Pianists

The Stellenbosch-based husband and wife duo pianists Nina Schumann and Luis Magelhaes presented an unusual programme when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

We were given something completely different from the familiar two-piano music of Schubert, Brahms and many others. This time there was an arrangement of Bach’s celebrated Goldberg Variations and, in stark contrast, two modern American compositions.

Bach wrote his 30 variations about 270 years ago and they are named after the harpsichordist Johann Goldberg, who was apparently their first performer. The two-piano version is an arrangement by Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901), probably the only composer to have been born in Liechtenstein, the tiny country sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria.

These two-piano Goldberg variations are more flamboyant and romantic in style than the original; updated Bach, so to speak. Would old Bach have approved if he could hear them now? Quite possibly. He would certainly have been surprised.

The performance was excellent. Nina and Luis have been piano partners for 15 years and, predictably enough, they demonstrated complete mutual understanding as well as high technical skills.

The American composers on the programme were William Bolcom (born 1938) and John Adams (born 1947).

Bolcom, who has long been interested in popular music, was represented by a three-movement work called Recuerdos (Memories, or Reminiscences). The three pieces were inspired by Latin-American dance music, and they proved to be very attractive, clever, brilliantly scored, with jaunty rhythms and piquant harmonies.

John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction, named after a truck stop at the Californian border, was aggressively modern, loud repetitive banging at the keyboards, almost void of melody. The pianists extracted full value from its noisy virtuosity, and the audience responded with excited applause at the end.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was a young violinist, Blake Perryman. Accompanied by Dana Hardjiev at the piano, he played Dvorak’s famous Humoreske and a concertino by the nineteenth century German composer Oskar Rieding.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


2nd August - The Annual Beth Shalom Concert

Every year the Friends of Music organisation stages a special concert to raise funds for Beth Shalom (Abode of Peace), the Jewish retirement home on the Durban Berea.

This year the Sunday afternoon concert at the Durban Jewish Centre was presented as a tribute to Dr Vera Dubin, who founded the Friends of Music 33 years ago, who is still the very active chairman, and who will shortly celebrate her 90th birthday.

A programme of light music and a variety of accomplished performers attracted an exceptionally large audience, about 500 people.

About 30 members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra appeared in the unusual role of pop musicians, playing mainly items from American films and stage shows to appreciative listeners.

The concert opened in most unusual fashion, seven lively pieces played by a marimba band, the marimba being a wooden instrument that resembles a xylophone. The players, about 20 of them at several marimbas, were children from the Curro school at Hillcrest. Their flying mallets and uninhibited zest created a happy atmosphere that was greatly enjoyed by the audience and which was maintained throughout the concert.

Three of Durban’s best-known instrumentalists, Elena Kerimova (violin), Boris Kerimov (cello) and Liezl-Maret Jacobs (piano), then played five tuneful items that included the Russian folk song Black Eyes, a Spanish Serenade by Glazunov and two pieces by the Romanian composer Grigoras Dinicu.

This was followed by a novelty, Many Hands On One Piano (six to be exact), with Liezl-Maret Jacobs, Jacques Heyns and Bobbie Mills at one keyboard. It looked a little crowded, but without colliding they skilfully performed arrangements of well-known music by Mozart, Schubert, Liszt and Rachmaninov.

Something completely different was provided by Platform Jazz, a group formed by Cathy Peacock, a trumpeter with the KZNPO, in 1990. The seven players – trumpet, clarinet, trombone, saxophone, piano, double bass and drums -- had the audience humming, clapping and tapping as they performed such old favourites as Twelfth Street Rag, In the Mood, and I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

The concert as a whole was a highly successful occasion for the Friends of Music and an appropriate tribute to Vera Dubin.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


28 July - Zomari Duo

The latest concert of the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre presented an unusual combination of performers, with an unusual name, playing an unusual programme.

The Zomari Duo was formed about ten years ago by two South African musicians, the guitarist James Grace and the flautist Bridget  Rennie Salonen.  Both live in Cape Town, where they teach at the College of Music of the University of Cape Town.  Bridget is married to a violinist, Petri Salonen, and they have three children.  James was born in England but has lived in South Africa since he was eight.

Zomari is the Swahili word for flute, Swahili being the language  widely spoken in east Africa.

As for the programme, it included the names of Giuliani, Hoover, Machado and Tarrega.

Having said all that, let me hasten to add that this was a most enjoyable concert, offering music ranging from the early eighteenth century to the late twentieth.  The flute was the dominant instrument in nearly all the works played, with the guitar supplying harmony,  rhythm and an exotic quality.

Both players were excellent throughout.  They opened with Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, which date from 1915, six short pieces that are authentic folk music. The performance established at the outset that we were listening to two superior artists.

This was followed by a four-movement Sonata, Op. 85, by Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), a pioneer of guitar music.  This work was tuneful and high-spirited.

Katherine Hoover is a contemporary American composer, and Bridget Rennie Salonen played one of her works for solo, unaccompanied flute, an evocative piece called Winter Spirits based on Native American music.

Another contemporary composer, the Brazilian Celso Machado, was represented by three pieces called Musiques Populaires Bresiliennes, and then we were taken to the eighteenth century with a cheerful, bright sonata by the German baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann.

A high point of the evening was provided by James Grace in a celebrated composition for solo guitar, Francisco Tarrega’s haunting Memories of the Alhambra. The continuous tremolo makes this is a difficult piece to play, and it was fascinating to watch James Grace’s rapid fingering as he delivered the music with high skill.

Four pieces by Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine king of the tango, brought an outstanding concert to an end.

The prelude performers of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were two clarinettists, Brett Alborough and Wesley Lewis, who played a double clarinet concerto by the Czech composer Franz Krommer (1759-1831).  It was attractive, lively music, and the performance was very good, of virtually professional standard. Ann Muir accompanied the clarinettists in a piano arrangement of the orchestral part.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


30th June - The Baroque 2000

The Baroque 2000 group of musicians, who give frequent Sunday performances at the Mariannhill Monastery, made a welcome visit to the Durban Jewish Centre in a special appearance for the Friends of Music.

The programme was a repeat of an earlier recital called Earth’s Sounds. Seventeen players performed three works written about 300 years ago. The instruments involved were violin, viola, cello, double bass, harpsichord, flute, oboe, bassoon, percussion and trumpet. Most of the players are members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

The composers were two Frenchmen, Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) and Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747), and an Austrian with the unfortunate name of Fux, Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741), pronounced Fooks, which may be some comfort to English-speakers.

It is noteworthy that all three lived into their eighties, this at a time when life expectancy for adults in Europe was about 35. Music is presumably good for one’s health.

The Baroque 2000 programme was an effective display of the great gifts of these early composers. An overture by Fux and a four-movement “concert” by Rameau were graceful, elegant, original, but the most remarkable piece was the item called Les Elemens, The Elements, by Rebel.

This is intended to represent the creation of the world, and it opens with thunderous, cacophonous discords signifying the chaos that existed before the Creator sorted things out. This music is prophetic; you could almost mistake it for something by Stravinsky written 200 years later. Incidentally, it includes the use of a wind machine, a rather rare instrument consisting of a rotating cylinder.

The performance of the entire programme was outstanding, with the leading violinist, Ralitza Macheva, setting the mood in vigorous style. The music was enjoyable at all times. These old composers showed many modern touches, and they also showed that they lived close to nature; parts of the music gave the sounds of the nightingale, quail, cuckoo and chicken.

A large and enthusiastic audience showed their appreciation with prolonged applause.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Ané Dippenaar, an 18-year-old soprano who has been a member of the KZN Youth Choir since 2012.

She performed three songs with a common theme, the misfortunes of young women abandoned by lovers. The arias were Per la Gloria (“For love my heart longs”), from a 1722 opera by Giovanni Bononcini ; Das Verlassene Magdlein (“The Forsaken Maiden”) by Hugo Wolf (1804-1875) and “In His Eyes” from the 1990 American musical Jekyll and Hyde by Frank Wildhorn.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


23rd June - Lonestar Classical Voices Quartet

Six musicians with talents covering a wide field, a vocal quartet and two pianists, gave an evening of delectable music for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

It was a multinational as well as a multicultural event, for they came from South Africa, the United States and South Korea. And all but one had appeared recently with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

The exception was Liezl-Maret Jacobs of Durban, an outstanding pianist. The other performers were Bronwen Forbay, soprano, originally from Durban, now living the United States; her husband Randall Umstead, tenor, American; Jamie van Eyck, mezzo soprano, American; Christian Bester, baritone, South African now living in the United States; and Kaju Lee, pianist, Korea.

Anybody taking a casual look at the programme might think that he or she had stumbled by mistake into a medical conference. All six are doctors – of music. Ah well, music can ease many ailments.

The programme was on the light side and none the worse for that. Brahms’s two groups of Liebeslieder, 36 short love songs, were the main items of the evening. They are not often presented in their original form, as they were here, vocal quartet and piano duet, with some solo parts for the singers. They are delightful, and all the performances were very good.

The rest of the programme consisted of songs, mainly solo items, by Johann Strauss II (Die Fledermaus) and Franz Lehar (The Merry Widow and Land of Smiles). With such a variety of voices it would be difficult and unfair to make comparisons. Suffice it to say that all the singers were excellent, and they aroused much enthusiasm in the audience.

Kaju Lee and Liezl-Maret Jacobs provided first-class support at the keyboard, and Kaju Lee gave the only solo piano performance of the evening with a spirited account of Schumann’s Aufschwung (Soaring), from his Fantasiestucke, Op. 12.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Bogomil Hadjiev, a violinist who is a grade six pupil at the Deutsche Schule at Cowies Hill.  Accompanied by Dana Hadjiev, he showed promise and poise in playing Massenet’s well-known Meditation and a Rondino by P. Hadjiev.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


16th June - Anzel Gerber (cello) and Ben Schoeman (piano)

Two of South Africa’s most gifted young musicians presented an outstanding recital of cello and piano music for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Anzel Gerber, cello, and Ben Schoeman, piano, are both well-known as soloists and as chamber music players, and they have often combined their musical talents in recitals such as this one, with most enjoyable results.

The repertory of music for the cello and piano is somewhat limited, possibly because composers have had to face the problems of tonal balance; the bass notes of the piano can obscure the deep tone of the cello. Predictably enough, Beethoven solved the problems successfully in his five cello sonatas, and the first item on this Durban programme was his Sonata in C major, Op. 102, No. 1, which dates from 1815.

Both players excelled in this splendid composition. Their calm and dedicated approach to its complexities and subtleties impressed the large audience, as did their mutual understanding, based on their long-standing musical partnership.

This was followed by Benjamin Britten’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 65, written in 1961. Britten’s music is not to everybody’s taste, to put it mildly, but there was no denying the quality of the playing.

This is a 20-minute, five-movement work and it has many interesting features, such as the development of the first movement from a tiny fragment of melody, the pizzicato, guitar-like second movement, and the solemn slow movement. This was all played with skill and conviction.

In the second half of the concert the players moved to the romantic era, with Schumann’s eloquent Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70, and Chopin’s Sonata in G minor, Op. 65.

Chopin’s sonata was written in 1846. It is the composer’s last published work and is one of only nine compositions that he did not write for solo piano. It is rather neglected, inexplicably, because it is romantic, melodious, lyrical, passionate and poetic.

The performance was beyond reproach. The players extracted full value from the inimitably Chopinesque melody of the dreamy slow movement (it sounds like one of the composer’s Nocturnes) and from the headlong rush of the Finale.

Abzel Gerber produced a beautiful tone from her cello, and Ben Schoeman had ample opportunity to display his virtuoso powers in Chopin’s brilliant score.

The prelude performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Nina Alborough, an accomplished oboe player who, accompanied by Margrit Deppe at the piano, performed two movements of a concerto by Saint-Saens.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


2nd June - Ishay Shaer (piano)

Ishay Shaer, a highly accomplished 32-year-old Israeli pianist,  presented a programme of connoisseur’s favourites when he played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

He has in quite a short time built a reputation in Europe and  America as a performer of conspicuous skill, artistry and good judgment, and this was confirmed at his Durban recital.  His choice of programme was indicative of his musical personality, all significant works by great composers, all of them technically challenging but none of them in the empty show-off category.  And his keyboard demeanour, calm and undemonstrative, reinforced the impression of total dedication to the music.

He opened with Book 2 of Debussy’s Images, beautiful, subtle, descriptive pieces, the best known being Poissons d’or, Goldfish, the title speaks for itself.

This was followed by Beethoven’s Sonata in A major Op. 101, the first of the master’s last five sonatas.

This complex, often lyrical, difficult work was played by Shaer with insight and excellent tonal balance, a compelling performance of a great composition that is not heard very often.

After the interval came Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28, the concise and varied works described by the nineteenth century pianist/composer Anton Rubinstein as the pearls of Chopin’s entire output.  They encompass a wide range of moods, styles, emotions, from the persistent repeated notes of the famous Raindrop Prelude (No. 15) to the tempestuous No. 12 in G sharp minor.

shay Shaer gave an immaculate and sensitive performance of one of the greatest collection of pieces in the entire piano literature.

The set ends with the thundering, taxing Prelude No. 24 in  D minor, and, in response to enthusiastic applause, the pianist gave an encore of complete contrast, Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund was Amanda Kosi, a soprano.  Accompanied at the piano by Bobby Mills, she showed a strong and well-controlled voice in arias by Handel and Bizet.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


5th May - Joanna Frankel (violin) and Liezl-Maret Jacobs (piano)

Two gifted KZN musicians, Joanna Frankel (violin) and Liezl-Maret Jacobs (piano), presented an unusual and delightful programme when they played for the Friends of Music before a large audience at the Durban Jewish Centre.

They played nine fairly short pieces, with the emphasis on nothing too solemn. The longest work was Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, which runs for about 20 minutes. The rest of the programme ranged from Mozart to Gershwin. It was like a delicate necklace of small but sparkling gems.

The performance was, as one would expect, outstanding, with both players deriving and giving much enjoyment.

They began with music from George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, this being an arrangement by the great violinist Jascha Heifetz. The items used in this suite are Summertime, A woman is a sometime thing, It ain’t necessarily so, and Bess you is my woman now. In this form they were as captivating as ever.

Towards the end of his life the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) became interested in American jazz, and this is reflected in his Sonata for Violin and Piano, written in the nineteen-twenties. The slow movement is called Blues, and it is a fascinating adaptation of jazz elements to a classical mould.

The sonata is technically a very challenging work for both performers, especially the final movement, and Joanna Frankel and Liezl Jacobs emerged triumphantly from this forest of difficulties. Judging by the applause the audience much appreciated the quality of the performance.

This was followed by the first of three compositions called Pampeana by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-83). The title is a reference to the Pampas, the great plains of South America, and the music has the feel of the wide open spaces. It also has plenty of fierce Latin rhythms. An impressive work, played with skill and insight.

After three pleasant salon pieces by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) the players turned their attention to Mozart, who was represented by two compositions originally written for violin and orchestra, the Adagio in E major, K. 261, and the Rondo in C major, K. 373.

The Adagio was conceived, and later replaced, as the slow movement of a concerto, and it is calm, serene. The Rondo is lively, witty, relaxed.

The players captured admirably the spirit of both works, with the violinist producing a beautiful cantabile tone and the pianist demonstrating with nimble fingers that her part lost little in being transferred from orchestra to keyboard.

Finally we had the Carmen Fantasie written in 1883 by the Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate. Using all the tricks of the virtuoso’s trade, it incorporates some of the favourite themes from Bizet’s opera, and our Durban duo played it with zest and verve.

The prelude player of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was Sethu Goduka, a soprano who is a Grade 11 pupil at Maris Stella school. Showing a big, well-controlled voice and a good stage presence, she performed songs from Schubert, Puccini and the musical Les Miserables.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


14th April - Group of Three

The piano trio --- piano, violin and cello ---is one of the most agreeable forms of music, with a big and varied repertory, but it seems to have been rather neglected in Durban.

Three distinguished local performers did much to redress this situation in the latest concert of the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. Called the Group of Three, the three players were Liezl-Maret Jacobs (piano), Boris Kerimov (cello) and Elena Kerimova (violin), the latter two, husband and wife, being members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

The piano trio repertory includes works by Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak, Schubert, Ravel, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. The Group of Three chose three of the best-known examples, by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Beethoven.

They opened with a big work, Beethoven’s four-movement Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3. This trio and its two companions form what is probably the most remarkable Op. 1 written by any composer. They date from 1795, when Beethoven was making his mark in Vienna.

The C minor trio is a reminder that Beethoven was a supreme pianist. Liezl-Maret Jacobs presented the challenging piano part with great skill and aplomb.

All three players delivered the music with a minimum of the extravagant and demonstrative gestures of some other performers. Elena Kerimova produced a lovely sweet violin tone and Boris Kerimov excelled with his deep cello song.

This was followed by No. 39 of Haydn’s 45 piano trios, the one known as “The Gypsy” because its last movement is a rapid and rhythmical rondo labelled “in the Hungarian manner” (although the high point of the trio is surely the middle movement, a beautiful, flowing Adagio).

After the brilliant, rapid final movement the large audience showed their appreciation with prolonged applause.

The first of Mendelssohn’s two piano trios, in D minor, Op 49, is a typically tuneful, polished, urbane work, and the players showed excellent tonal balance and individual skills. Liezl-Maret was again outstanding in the virtuoso piano part.

The prelude performers of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Development Trust Foundation were the Durban Girls’ College String Trio. The players were Rachel Wedderburn-Maxwell (first violin), Tasmin Hastings (second violin) and Janelle Janse van Rensburg (cello), all music pupils of Violeta Osorhean. In a brief programme of pieces by Mozart, Beethoven and the Belgian composer Hector Fiocco (1703-1741) they displayed impressive skills and talents.

This was a totally enjoyable concert, more evidence that we have top-class musicians in Durban.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


17th March - Spencer Myer (piano)

The distinguished American pianist Spencer Myer is well known in  South Africa, and he made a welcome return here when he played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

He gave a varied programme ranging from Domenico Scarlatti to modern American.  He displayed the immaculate technique one would expect from a top-class pianist, and he presented the music with understanding, affection and insight.

Scarlatti (1685-1757) was a harpsichordist and one of the greatest of keyboard composers.  Spencer Myer played three of his sonatas.  There are 555 of them, short pieces that are classified by the letter K, which stands for Ralph Kirkpatrick, the American harpsichordist who visited South Africa about 50 years ago and became the supreme modern authority on Scarlatti.

Spencer Myer captured expertly the lively spirit of these delightful pieces.

He followed with Schumann’s big Fantasie in C.  Dating from 1836, this is one of the composer’s finest works, passionate, majestic and romantic – and difficult to play.  In this performance the pianist gave full rein to its many moods, and he was rewarded with an ovation from the audience.

The Sonatine by the French composer Maurice Ravel was first performed in 1906.   It is subtle, stylish and sophisticated --- very French in fact –and it is formidably difficult, especially the last of the three movements. Spencer Myer handled all this with virtuoso brilliance, producing a memorable performance.

Two American composers completed the programme.  Samuel Barber, best known for his Adagio for Strings, was represented by the four pieces called Excursions.   Written in the nineteen-forties, these are based on American folk and jazz idioms.  They are all attractive, and the gem is No. 3, which has its roots in a poignant folk song, “Streets of Laredo”, about a dying cowboy.

This was a good and interesting choice for the programme, as were the Three Rags by William Bolcomb, who was born in 1938.  These bright and entertaining pieces are part of the revival of interest in the nineteenth century ragtime music of Scott Joplin and others. They were played by Spencer Myer with great zest and panache.

&He gave an encore that was a complete contrast: Giovanni  Sgambati’s arrangement of the calm, ethereal Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice.  Beautiful music, beautifully played.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


3rd March - Lukas Vondracek (piano)

The Czech pianist Lukas Vondracek is the son of two professional pianists. He gave his first concert at the age of four, made his first international tour at the age of 10, and made his New York debut aged 16.

He is now 28 and he is an international celebrity, having built a big reputation while visiting 33 countries in Europe, North America, the Far East and elsewhere.

He played in South Africa two years ago and created a huge impression on audiences here. Now he is back, and a recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre confirmed that he is an exceptionally gifted virtuoso pianist.

He presented a varied programme that included some beautiful music that was probably unknown to most members of the audience. His keyboard manner is unusual. He adopts a hunched, almost crouching, position and plays with intensity and unwavering commitment.

He opened with Mozart’s Sonata No. 10 in C major, K.330, one of the finest of the composer’s 19 piano sonatas. Vondracek adopted quite a bold, firm approach to the music, and the result was totally compelling.

Then followed three dances by his Czech compatriot Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884). These were brilliant, extended pieces, running for about 15 minutes and quite advanced for their time (they date from 1879), with unusual harmonies and strong rhythms. They were played with great zest and skill.

A Capriccio by the Hungarian composer Erno Dohnanyi (1877-1960) was another challenging work, difficult but not, I thought , as attractive as the Smetana pieces.

Another Czech composer, Josef Suk (1874-1935), son-in-law of Antonin Dvorak, was represented by some lovely melodious pieces.

The pianist completed his programme with a magnificent performance of Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques, Symphonic Studies, written in 1837.

This is a big, difficult work, a mixture of poetry, drama and spectacular keyboard display. At times it was almost as exciting visually as it was aurally, but Lukas Vondracek always showed his ability to look beyond the dazzling technique into the subtleties of the music.

An ovation from the audience brought forth a Brahms encore.

The prelude player of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was a skilful recorder player, Amy Diack. With Bobby Mills at the piano she played two pieces, a movement from a concerto by the eighteenth century composer Giuseppe Sammartini and the well-known Czardas by Vittorio Monti.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


17th February - Aviram Reichert (piano)

The Israeli pianist Aviram Reichert gave a brilliant recital of masterworks when he played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

He has built a big international reputation over the past 20 years or so, and he has visited South Africa several times. On this occasion his Durban audience were again impressed by the controlled power of his playing.

He opened his programme with Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 109 in E major, one of the greatest works in the entire keyboard repertory. He gave a compelling interpretation of this complex, philosophical music, and the high points came, inevitably, in the sublime final movement, a set of six variations on an other-worldly theme. The listeners seemed spellbound, and there was a perceptible awed silence at the end before they broke into enthusiastic applause.

Then came the most famous of all the 32 Beethoven sonatas, Op. 27 No. 2 in Csharp minor, the Moonlight Sonata. The beautiful Adagio first movement was played with subtlety and delicacy, and the rest of the sonata produced a splendid display of virtuosity, especially in the final Presto agitato.

This was followed by two works in very different mood. They both gave the pianist ample opportunity to display his formidable technique and big tone.

The one-movement sonata No. 5, Op. 53, by the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) was composed more than a hundred years ago, but it is still remarkably revolutionary to most twenty-first century ears. It is one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the piano, and Aviram Reichert showed astonishing skills as he delivered the sound and fury of Scriabin’s rapid octaves and chords.

The programme was completed with the more familiar strains of Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35, the one with the celebrated funeral march. The pianist revelled in this powerful, romantic music, and another virtuoso performance brought an ovation from the audience.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was 12-year-old Rachel Wedderburn-Maxwell, a pupil at Durban Girls’ College.  She is a pianist and a violinist.  On this occasion we heard her in the latter role, in which she displayed a precocious talent remarkable in one so young.

--- Michael Green courtesy of


10th February - Yi-Jia Susanne Hou

A Canadian violinist and an American pianist provided an evening of great enjoyment for a large audience when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Yi-Jia Susanne Hou was born in Shanghai 37 years ago but her parents, both of them violinists, moved to Canada when she was three. She has developed a highly successful international career as a violinist, and the Durban listeners were given plenty of evidence of her abilities.

Bryan Wallick, who made his recital debut in New York 17 years ago, is a virtuoso pianist. More important, he is a mature player who puts respect for the music ahead of mere display.

In this recital both players were equal partners, as the composers intended. The programme was slightly off the beaten track, and the high point was undoubtedly the performance of Schubert’s Fantasy in C major.

This big work was written in 1827, a year before Schubert’s death at the age of 31. It opens with a mysterious tremolo passage and later uses a theme from one of Schubert’s songs, Angel of Beauty. It is long – at its premiere one critic left before the end – but there is not a dull moment. Susanne Hou and Bryan Wallick did full justice to this masterpiece, and the audience showed their appreciation with prolonged applause.

Two works by Brahms, the Scherzo in C minor and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, completed the “serious” part of the programme. Both were played with high technical skills and admirable balance and understanding between the two players.

In lighter vein we had Masks, Jascha Heifetz’s arrangement of music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet; a solemn piece called Adoration by the contemporary Canadian composer Mychael Danna; a little tune by Susanne Hou herself called Taste of Canada, short and sweet; and the well-known Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saens.

This was a memorable recital by two unusually gifted musicians.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lottery Distribution Fund, was a young trumpeter, Celi Ngemi, a student at the Durban Music School.

Accompanied at the piano by Ann Muir, he gave a confident and accomplished performance of music from a trumpet concerto by Johann Hummel (1778-1837).

--- Michael Green courtesy of

If ever the word divine was made manifest it was in the music that was played last night at the Friends of Music concert at the Jewish Club. Violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou together with the brilliant pianist Bryan Wallick enraptured us with Brahms, Schubert and Prokofiev. The outstanding Saint-Saens wowed the audience into a standing ovation. This recital made me so glad to be alive – it was such a tonic for the soul. Thanks to Friends of Music for continuing to bless us with music of this calibre.

Ms. N. van den Blink



27th January - The Wits Trio

Review of recital by The Wits Trio for Friends of Music (Durban Jewish Centre, 27th January 2015)

The Friends of Music ( ) began its ambitious programme of recitals for 2015 this week, with an appearance by the Wits Trio. Its members are accomplished performers and teachers: Zanta Hofmeyr (violin), Maciej Lacny (cello) and Malcolm Nay (piano, an associate professor at Wits University), and their well-chosen repertoire provided the perfect vehicle to launch the new season.
Opinions differ on the exact significance of Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2, Op. 67. Malcolm Nay prefaced the performance with a persuasive oration on the composer’s embedded anti-Soviet ‘messages’. Things are not actually that simple: the trio is a work of the war years, and pays homage to two of the composer’s friends, Ivan Sollertinsky, a Soviet music and theatre critic, and Benjamin Fleischmann, a violinist and composition student. Both died untimely deaths, the former in 1942, the latter (in the Battle of Leningrad) in 1941.

Because news of the Jewish Holocaust was filtering out at the time of composition, and with regard to the obvious klezmer references in the last movement, many have linked the work directly to the Holocaust. Nay linked this understanding to this year’s 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops (27.01.1945); Tuesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, making the moment a fitting coincidence. But, since only 7 000 people, mostly ill and dying, had remained in Auschwitz (the rest being subjected to evacuation marches that killed about 15 000 of them), and because the terrible total of about 1.1 million people had already been exterminated in the Auschwitz complex of camps, a sincerely intentioned performance of this work is appropriate in any year and on any day.

The vital things are indeed its intermittent oddness of sound, its teasing allusions, and the general effect of multifarious sources and moods constantly modulating, all of which adds up to more than the sum of the parts. The trio brought their skills to bear on this material with a strongly narrative feeling, drawn from Hofmeyr’s sweet-toned violin, Lacny’s eager attack, and Nay’s carefully judged marshalling of the piano part. It was a performance to keep listeners engrossed, as well as moved.

Though Dvořák’s Dumky Trio, Op. 90, ultimately stems from carefully preserved Ukrainian folk elegies – the trio is really six of these dumky in six different keys – the work has little of the formalised about it, being saturated with the composer’s delicious romanticism, and infused with the necessary contrast of melancholy openings by exuberant conclusions. Not only is the effect consoling and yet full of variety, but the musicians were at one with each other and the language to a marked degree.
They had ‘overtured’ with Schubert’s Notturno, an orphaned slow movement ascribed to the same period as his two great trios, Opp. 99 and 100. It was possibly meant to serve in one of them, but it does not have the same traction as the music of those masterpieces. However, it has a beguiling euphony of harmony throughout its considerable length (some 10 minutes), and supplied a kind of fine pastel foil to the rest of the concert.

Rashalia Pather’s is by now a well-known face in musical circles, and her Prelude Performance gave us a chance to hear her present achievement as a pianist. It was an encouraging display, her Reflets dan l’eau light and transparent, and a toccata-like Dance of the White Indian (Villa-Lobos) involved and insistent. The Debussy is difficult to project, especially from a piano placed rather back on the stage. But the dance had all the sonority one could have wished for. (In fact, the bass register of the piano proved at times a little hard to rein in, even for the considerate Mr Nay.) All told, though, it was an evening that, whether blithe or stern in tone, provided much delight.

The audiences who support these recitals are ‘friends of music’ in a particular way. They deserve careful consideration, and the suggestions offered here would go a long way in confirming their loyalty and hopefully expanding their numbers and diversity.
In respect of concert presentation and in details of hospitality, the managements of Friends of Music and the Jewish Centre need to put their heads together. The atmosphere of these recitals would gain immeasurably if the present arrangement – the performers in a poorly-lit stage space, the audience bathed in brilliant neon light – was reversed. The musicians, our means of ‘enlightenment’, should be accorded a warm glow from above, and we listeners should be absorbed in the dark.

Finally, the bar area should be really welcoming. Its clock has stopped (ominous!), and on a muggy evening the air-con was imperceptible. Such small improvements, as well as the more significant matter of lighting, would give a more professional frame to recitals that are always affordable, consistently enjoyable, and at times nothing short of revelatory.