Featured Artistic magic and musical beauty

Artistic magic and musical beauty

In a brace of three French chanson, bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana – this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Music – proved his mettle as a recitalist of merit. Communicating the essence of each song with unrestrained emotion, Ngqungwana’s close identification with the artistic idiom underpinned his ability to transfer the soul of each chanson with untrammelled abandon.

Ngqungwana impressed in the opening Chanson Romanesque, delighting in Ravel’s Spanish-inflected writing. With Ngqungwana’s blistering attack and animated interpretation of Chanson á boire drawing rapturous applause, ethereally floated head tones were then replicated to perfection in the Chanson épique.

Ably assisted by pianist Laurent Philippe, Ngqungwana’s recital delivered moments of heady artistic magic and instances of incredible musical beauty. In moments of exquisite musicianship, Ngqungwana and Philippe performed in perfect accord – it was the epitome of a collaborative performance. Their rendition of In Dreams, from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, provided a glimpse into this rare artistic union where sudden harmonic shifts received meaningful tonal colouring, and decrescendos were tapered with perfect unison and ensemble cohesion.

Also, from the same song cycle, Bright is the Ring of Words and Youth and Love provided memorable instances of artistic empathy, especially apparent in emotionally charged moments, and tonal shading of chromatically inspired scoring.With his rich, sonorous voice and compelling stage presence, Ngqungwana held the audience in the palm of his hand. From The Vagabond’s first phrase Ngqungwana impressed with artistically constructed phrases, meaningful delineation of climactic points, even tone production across crescendo passages, and nuanced text painting.


Musa Ngqungwana, at the Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Gala Concert. Photo: CuePix/Harold Gess

Noticeable in the German lieder was Ngqungwana’s ability to transcend shifting emotional states with ease and conviction (Denne es gehet dem Menschen) and aptitude for penetrating the text and score through imaginative application of sonic colour (O Tod, wie bitter bist du). Philippe’s accompaniments infiltrated the core of each score, adding understanding to the text and lending emotional support to each expressive moment.

From the rippling arpeggios in Let Beauty Awake to filigree passage work in Brahms’s Denne s gehet dem Menschen, Philippe demonstrated complete confidence and assured musicianship. Here is a pianist and collaborative musician from the top drawer who is able to conjure innervoice transparency within translucent homophonic textures, and demonstrate consummate artistry through coaxing a vast array of dynamic colours from within each accompaniment’s rich tapestry. The creation of these colours while playing a piano with limited sonic capabilities – thin bass lacking in real resonance and harsh-toned treble – is due to his remarkable skill. How much more wonderful would it have been to have heard him accompanying on a decent concert grand piano?

It is mindboggling that Festival management can place at the disposal of an international artist an instrument that is well past its prime and in dire need of restringing and overhauling with a new set of hammers. Sadly, this has been an ongoing problem with Festival management immune to comments from professional artists. Maestro Philippe, thank you for weaving such magic from a substandard piano.

By Jeffery Brukman
Cue specialist writer

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