Classical A spirited display of finesse

A spirited display of finesse

Review: Chamber Concert

Members of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra (KZNPO), joined by concert pianist Albie van Schalkwyk, presented two strongly contrasting works from the chamber music repertory: Johann Hummel’s “Piano Septet No. 1 in D minor Op 74” and Francis Poulenc’s “Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet Op 10”. These two demanding pieces were performed with élan, testifying to the outstanding calibre of the KZNPO’s musicians.

The programme opened with Hummel’s Piano Septet, the ensemble immediately conveying the essence of the Austrian composer’s score. This ebullient performance went straight to the heart of the “Allegro con spirit” marking in a performance characterised by impetus-driven thematic propulsion.

Maintaining a full-bodied euphonious timbre throughout this performance, the closing “Vivace” cascaded toward a blistering climax with the players commanding the audience’s rapt attention. Here the finely etched instrumental interplay highlighted the ensemble’s heightened listening abilities, demonstrating truly top-notch musicianship.

Violist David Snaith’s solo passages were particularly stunning, especially moments of poised delineation and superbly calculated projection of quick moving semiquaver runs within the music’s textural web. Other notable contributions were extended passages of long-limbed phrasing that shone through the tapestry from horn player Alice Thompson, and exquisite phrasing from the bow of cellist Boris Kerimov.

Van Schalkwyk handled the score’s plethora of notes with assured ease, though the filigree passage work did not always penetrate the ensemble’s texture. Notable throughout this performance was Van Schalkwyk’s fleet finger-work, digital accuracy when performing at breakneck speed, and clear articulation across rapidly moving passage work. Especially memorable was his stylish abandon as the music swirled with rapacious nervous energy during the “Minuetto e Scherzo” movement.

Van Schalkwyk managed admirably on an instrument whose tonal design is inadequate to fully explore the venue’s size, acoustic properties, and balance against the ensemble. That a baby grand piano was provided for this event shows a lack of musical insight on the part of Festival administrators, for it is commonly held that in a venue of this size a baby grand piano projects a thin, tinny-sounding treble, “tubby” bass lacking in resonance, and a beleaguered sense when considering tonal properties; all aspects evident during this concert.

Van Schalkwyk’s carefully projected voicing during the “Andante con variazione” movement is as much a tribute to his superb musicianship as it is to his pianistic skills; here he manipulated the piano’s vagaries with consummate skill.

Poulenc’s Sextet received an astonishing performance with the ensemble showing complete identification with the music’s expanded tonal sonic tapestry. Immediately grasping the style and the work’s emotional intent, the players produced an interpretation that explored every nook and cranny of the score with musical purpose that evinced fine attention to detail and musical nuance. Especially notable was the delicate, sensitive handling of the second movement’s opening (“Divertissement) and the ensemble’s musical characterisation of unfolding, varying emotional states with the introduction of each theme. This fine performance also demonstrated the ensemble’s architectonic sense for musical and artistic structure.

Bassoonist Vessela Minkova’s assured projection of solo passages, which poignantly communicated musical intent, added to an appreciation of this work, as did Van Schalkwyk’s sublimely sustained cantabile lines during the first movement (“Allegro vivace). Annelize de Villiers’ intoning of musically shaped phrases, especially during the third movement (“Prestissimo”), were a noteworthy addition to this rendering.

French hornist Sorin Osorhean shone throughout this performance with playing that displayed the apogee of musicianship mixed with technical brilliance. A consummate artist, able to hold his own anywhere in the world, Osorhean fashioned musical lines of fine beauty, coupled with unmatchable evenness of tone, phenomenal breath control and magnificently projected upper register tones.

Chamber Concert, Rhodes Chapel, 6 July, 7pm 

-Jeffrey Brukman

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