Friends of Music Recitals 2017



18th July 2017 - Trio Esperanza

A combination of flute, cello and piano and a programme of unfamiliar music drew, predictably enough, a small audience to the Durban Jewish Centre for the latest performance for the Friends of Music.

The players are called the Trio Esperanza (it was not quite clear why; Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and there was no Spanish music on their programme).  They are Liesl Stoltz (flute), Polina Burdukova (cello) and Kerryn Wisniewski (piano).  They are all first-class players who have performed successfully around South Africa and abroad.

They opened with the Trio Op. 78, basically a set of variations, by the Austrian composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), who was in his time a celebrated pianist and composer and is largely forgotten today, except for a Rondo in E flat that has been played by most piano students.

This Trio is a pleasing, melodious work, and it was performed here with high skills and lovely tonal balance of the three instruments.

We moved into the 21st century with a work by Hilary Tann, who was born in Wales in 1974 and now lives in the United States.  She was represented here by an interesting three-movement composition called Gardens of Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici, a musical picture of the gardens in Florence of the last member of the famous Medici family.

The music was modern but rather elegant and not aggressively dissonant.  Again the performance was first-rate, with Liesl Stoltz, a highly accomplished flautist, always prominent.

At this point a previously unannounced item was inserted in the programme:  Notturno Elegiaco by the South African composer Hendrik Hofmeyr.  It was not an easy work to assimilate at a first hearing.

Three Watercolours by the French composer Philippe  Gaubert (1879-1941) were a pleasant novelty for most listeners, impressionistic in style, easy on the ear (although not so easy for the pianist).

The recital closed with the Trio Op. 86 by the Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin (born 1937).  This turned out to be an attractive, jazzy kind of work, performed with virtuoso flourish and verve by all three players.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was a 14-year-old violinist, Tasmin Hastings.  She is a pupil at Durban Girls’ College and will shortly be moving to Thailand to continue her schooling with the help of a music scholarship. 

She showed good tone and technique in three attractive and quite demanding short pieces.  Bobby Mills was a sympathetic and skilful accompanist at the piano.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


4th July 2017 - Christopher Duigan (Piano) & David Salleras (Saxophon)

An exploration of mainly unknown musical territory turned out to be a most enjoyable journey in the latest concert of the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The performers were Christopher Duigan of Pietermaritzburg , who is one of South Africa’s best-known  pianists, and David Salleras of Barcelona, Spain, who has an international reputation as a saxophone player and has visited South Africa regularly over the past five years.

A good-sized audience heard them present a consistently interesting programme of a dozen items for this rather unusual combination of instruments.

They opened with a Fantasie by Jules Demersseman, a Frenchman who died in 1866 at the age of 33. This composer was a friend of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, and he produced some of the first works ever written for the instrument.

This Fantasie seemed to me to be quite advanced for its time.  It exploited admirably the rich, penetrating tone of the saxophone and called for extreme dexterity on the part of both players.  They responded with a brilliant performance.

An unexpected item was a Sonata in G minor by Bach, written originally for flute and harpsichord.  It was lively and delightful.

Five of the shorter works in the programme were written by  Christopher Duigan himself.  They showed him to be an accomplished and often humorous composer;  three of his works were entitled First Round, Drowning your Sorrows, and Bar Stool Tango.  All very entertaining, with sophisticated and virtuoso parts for the piano.

Saxophonist Salleras played one of his own compositions, an unaccompanied piece called Mi Bailora based on Spanish flamenco music.  Written in a modern style and played with great skill and panache, it caused something of a sensation among the appreciative listeners.

The programme was completed with more familiar and unfailingly attractive twentieth century music, two numbers from Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche Suite (written originally for two pianos) and two by Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine king of the tango.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was Luxolo Mahlasela, a tenor who is a third-year music student at the University of KwaZulu/Natal.  Accompanied at the piano by David Smith, he gave impressive and expressive performances of arias from Haydn’s oratorio The Creation and Donizetti’s operas L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


20 June 2017 - Baroqueswing

The Friends of Music offered something very unusual for their latest concert at the Durban Jewish Centre:  jazzed up versions of familiar classical melodies. 

The title was Baroqueswing and the performers were the Charl du Plessis Trio, consisting of Charl du Plessis, a well-known classical and jazz pianist, Werner Spies (double bass) and Hugo Radyn (drums).

Their programme was mainly 18th century baroque music brought up to date, so to speak.  It included Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Double Violin Concerto;  Gluck’s Melodie from his opera Orfeo ed Euridice;  Handel (Messiah); and Albinoni (Adagio).

A small audience seemed to have mixed feelings about all this.  Some were enthusiastic. Others complained that the music was too loud.

There was no doubting the skills of the leader, Charl du Plessis;  he is a virtuoso keyboardist, to use the terminology of this environment. And Werner Spies produced good sounds from an extraordinary instrument, a kind of double bass cut in half and attached to wires.  

The jazz arrangements composed by Charl du Plessis were certainly ingenious and, well, swinging, and they were obviously enjoyed by most listeners. I suppose that a classical purist might regard some of these items as a travesty verging on sacrilege.

My own feeling is that they were certainly interesting and catchy but marred by excessive volume. The Gluck, Albinoni and Bach’s Jesu are meant to be played softly, not fortissimo.  

The most successful pieces on the programme were, I thought, two authentically jazz compositions by contemporary American composers, Jeff Hamilton and Chick  Corea.  And George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, played as an encore.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was a 15-year-old cellist, Morgan Oakley.  She displayed an accurate tone, a poise and technical skills that were remarkable in one so young.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


6 June 2017 - Baroque 2000 Ensemble

Music from the 17th and 18th centuries made up the programme for the Baroque 2000 Ensemble in a concert presented for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

This ensemble is a group of four skilled and experienced players:  Ralitza Matcheva (violin), Refiloe Olifant (violin), Cecilia di Cecco (cello) and Erik Dippenaar (harpsichord).  Ralitza was born in Bulgaria and Cecilia in Italy, and all four are based in South Africa.

Baroque music is by definition a historically circumscribed area, and its appeal may be somewhat limited, but it includes much attractive music, as was shown in this concert.

Eight composers were represented but only two of them, are really well known:  Antonio Vivaldi, whose fame rests on The Four Seasons; and Domenico Scarlatti, the master of the keyboard. 

A fairly familiar name on the programme was William Boyce (1711-1779), a prolific English composer represented here by a Trio sonata in C major.  Melodically and harmonically in advance of its time, this was given a splendid performance by the three string players of the ensemble.

Three of the pieces on the programme were versions of a  old Scottish tune, The Bush Aboon Traquair, which refers to a grove of trees at an old house named Traquair, in Scotland.  This was so famous in its day that it attracted the attention of two 18th century Italian composers, Francesco Barsanti and Francesco Geminiani, with the delightful results heard in this programme.

Two works by Vivaldi --- a Trio sonata and his version of the traditional Iberian folk melody Folia  ---were much appreciated by the audience.  And Erik Dippenaar contributed solo harpsichord virtuosity in one of Scarlatti’s 550 sonatas.

The prelude performers of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, were two young trumpeters.  David Ward, aged 11, a pupil at Chelsea Preparatory School, showed promise for one so young, and Brendan O’Loughlin, aged 14, from Thomas More College, showed more mature skills.  Both are students with KZNPO trumpeter Cathy Peacock, who accompanied them at the piano.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


23 May 2017 - Trio Frontier

The Trio Frontier is an unusual combination of three KXZN musicians who have performed together in Durban, and have done so with distinction.

They are Christopher Duigan, piano;  Junnan Sun, clarinet;  and Aristide du Plessis, cello.  The latter two are members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. Christopher Duigan is based in Pietermaritzburg and is one of South Africa’s best-known  pianists.

For their latest concert for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre they chose a programme featuring their instruments individually rather than collectively.  Predictably, Christopher Duigan was the busiest;  he had to play as an accompanist as well as a soloist.

The programme consisted of eight fairly short pieces covering a wide range of style and sentiment.  And they were all of strong audience appeal, in spite of the fact that they were probably unknown territory to many listeners.

Christopher Duigan opened with a magnificent Chaconne in G, HWV 435, by Handel.  For me this was the high point of the evening.  The composition, consisting of 21 variations, has an ineffable grandeur, and Duigan’s virtuoso interpretation was totally compelling.

Later he showed virtuosity of a very different kind in Ravel’s Alborada de gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester), Spanish in  character and exceptionally difficult to play. 

Junnan Sun, who was born in China and has lived in South Africa for the past 14 years, demonstrated his remarkable skills in the Introduction, Theme and Variations for clarinet by Gioachino Rossini.  This composer is of course best known for his operas, and this clarinet work, written about 200 years ago, has a distinctly operatic tinge.

Later in the programme Sun played two more clarinet pieces:  a Shalom Aleichem by the contemporary Hungarian  composer Bela Kovacs, and a Carmen Fantasy written for violin by Pablo de Sarasate and arranged for clarinet by the French composer Nicolas Baldeyrou, who was born in 1979.  All very interesting, and showing that the clarinet can on   occasion produce big and even violent sounds.

The cellist Aristide du Plessis, who was born in Durban in 1989, displayed a lovely mellow tone in Max Bruch’s well-known Kol Nidrei and in an Elegie by the French composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924).  And he later ignited some fireworks in Tarantella by David Popper (1844-1908), a Bohemian cellist.    

The three performers assembled together for the only time in the concert when they gave an encore, a Beethoven slow movement.  At the end they were rewarded with an ovation from an appreciative audience.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was Sandile Mabaso, a tenor who is a staff member at Kearsney College. Born in KZN, he is  an experienced and mature singer with a pure, accurate voice and a controlled, expressive technique.  He gave much pleasure in singing three German lieder by Beethoven and Schubert.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


25 April 2017 - Jacqueline Martens, violin, and Sulayman Human, piano

Two outstanding young South African musicians gave an evening of undiluted pleasure when they played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Jacqueline Martens, violin, and Sulayman Human, piano, presented a most attractive programme ranging from Mozart to modern, and did so with high technical skills and artistic insight.

Jacqueline Martens, a tall, elegant 22-year-old, was born in South Africa but has spent most of her life in England.  Her grandparents were Belgians who moved to Durban a long time ago.

Sulayman Human (23) is from the Western Cape and has won several performing competitions.  

They are an admirable musical partnership.  Jacqueline has a virtuoso technique, well displayed in some of the very difficult pieces she played.  At the piano Sulayman played with vigour, accuracy and conviction.  And the tonal balance between the two performers was first-rate.

They opened with a relatively little-known Adagio in E major, K. 261, by Mozart, a lovely tranquil piece, and followed with another calm and much more famous composition , the Meditation from the opera Thais by Jules Massenet (1842-1912).

We moved to a bigger field with Richard Strauss’s violin sonata, written in 1888, when the composer was 24 and in  love with the woman he subsequently married.  It is an ardent, lyrical, compelling work, technically demanding, and the players extracted full value from it.

Beethoven’s Sonata in D major, Op. 12 No. 1, dating from 1798, may not be the finest of his 10 violin sonatas but it is nevertheless irresistible music and it provided for me the high point of the evening.  The players captured exactly the mood of melodious good humour (and advanced ideas for its time), never more so than in the second variation of the middle movement, with flowing violin and rippling piano.

   Something new was provided in a work called Laumereva by the South African composer Hendrik Hofmeyr, who was  born in Cape Town in 1857.  It is ethnic music, referring to mythical people in Zimbabwe and imitating an African instrument.  Written for unaccompanied violin, it bristles with technical difficulties, and these were surmounted with aplomb by Jacqueline Martens

This exceptional recital ended with an old favourite, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, written by Camille Saint-Saens in 1863.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was a soprano, Lungile Cele, a 17-year-old pupil at Northlands Girls’ High School.  Accompanied at the piano by Bobby Mills, she displayed a good, well-controlled voice and a pleasant, unaffected stage manner.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


15 March 2017 - Andrey Baranov (violin)  and Maria Baranova (piano)

The first eighteenth century violin notes of the latest recital in the Durban Jewish Centre signified that here was a young master of his instrument.

The player was a 31-year-old Russian violinist, Andrey Baranov.  Accompanied by his sister, Maria Baranova (29), he gave a memorable performance for the Friends of Music in a programme that gave him ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills.

In his relatively short career Andrey Baranov has won many international awards (as indeed has his sister) and it is easy to understand why.  His technical abilities are exceptional, but it is the consistently full, rich quality of his violin tone that makes his playing truly remarkable.

It was this that immediately commanded attention with the opening notes of the so-called Devil’s Trill sonata by Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770).  The work derives its name from the composer’s ingeniously fabricated story that the devil played the music to him in a dream.

The music is in fact much better than the story.  It is attractive and melodious, and Baranov played it with great poise and insight.

This high standard was maintained throughout the rest of the programme.  Two little-known and interesting   compositions by Tchaikovsky were followed by Paganini’s celebrated La Campanella, which is perhaps most famous in its piano transcription by Franz Liszt.

Then came:   

A sonata for unaccompanied violin by the Belgian composer Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931).

The gentle and romantic Poeme by Ernest Chausson, who died in 1899 at the age of 44 when he rode his bicycle into a stone wall.

Tzigane by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), vivid music in a gypsy style.

All these works demonstrated the versatile prowess of Andrey Baranov.   His sister Maria made a notable contribution with keyboard parts that were often technically challenging.

In response to an ovation from the audience they played more Paganini as an encore.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was Leila Poona, a 15-year-old pupil at Crawford College, La Lucia.  Accompanied at the piano by Liezl-Maret Jacobs, she played two familiar pieces, Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre and Brahms’s second Hungarian Dance.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


21 February 2017 - Daniel Ciobanu, piano

Daniel Ciobanu, a 25-year-old Romanian pianist who lives in Berlin and had his musical education in Scotland, gave a display of brilliant virtuoso playing in a recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The programme consisted of three big works and some lesser known pieces, all of them technically demanding.

Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise is one of the Polish master’s lesser known compositions, sometimes performed with an orchestra. The Andante is beautiful and extended (Spianato means smoothed out); the Polonaise is brilliantly scored.

Ciobanu, a slender, bearded young man, gave a splendid performance, with a delicate, clear tone in the Andante and high speed dexterity in the Polonaise. It was impressive to see as well as to hear, and it brought forth an ovation from the audience.

Mussorgsky’s massive Pictures at an Exhibition, composed in 1874, was played with great power and dramatic effect, with admirably judged tonal contrasts. This, too, was greatly appreciated by the audience.

It was followed by attractive and richly harmonised twentieth century pieces by the Romanian George Enescu (1881-1955) and the Russian Nikolai Medtner (1879-1951).

Finally we had Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7, written in 1942, fast and brutal. One celebrated Russian pianist describes it as a portrait of totalitarianism and goes so far as to say that some of it depicts Stalin.

It is by any reckoning a savage composition that makes formidable demands on the player, especially the final movement. Daniel Ciobanu handled these with great skill and conviction. This music may not have been to everybody’s taste, but everybody must have been impressed by the performance.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was Zama Mkhwanazi, a 16-year-old pupil at Northlands Girls’ High School. Accompanied at the piano by Bobby Mills she showed a promising soprano voice in three well-known songs.

---Michael Green (courtesy of


31 January 2017 - Gypsy Strings

The Friends of Music began their year of concerts at the Durban Jewish Centre with a most unusual presentation, a programme of gypsy music performed by five members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

This group call themselves Gypsy Strings.  They are led by Ralitza Matcheva, a Bulgaria-born violinist, and the other players are Roberto Palma, violin, from Italy;  Annamaria D’Andrea, viola, also from Italy;  Ralitza Todorova, cello, from Bulgaria;  and Stephane Pechoux, percussion, from France.

A very large audience attended this concert, and they  obviously greatly enjoyed it.  The programme was a selection of traditional Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian and Greek music in gypsy style, and the composers represented included Georges Bizet, Bela Bartok, Pablo Sarasate and Johannes Brahms.

Most of this music was probably unknown territory to most of the audience, but the verve and vivacity of the players captivated the listeners.   

Ralitza Matcheva introduced the items on the programme, and it was a pity that she did not have a microphone;  her comments were largely inaudible.  But this did not really affect the general enjoyment of the evening as the players  delivered the music with high skills and enthusiasm.

The prelude performer of the evening, supported by the National Lotteries Commission, was Nontobeko Bhengu, a 17-year-old soprano from Ndwedwe.  Accompanied at the piano by Nina Watson, she sang arias from Handel’s Orlando, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

     ---Michael Green (courtesy of