Thursday 7 August, Mozart Liszt Rachmaninov, City Hall

Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Bernhard Gueller, John Ntsepe

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Mozart – The Marriage of Figaro overture

We were riveted from the opening perfectly synchronous semiquavers. The performance seemed effortless. Running passages were exquisite, partly due to the genius of the composer, and partly due to the orchestra probably knowing this one quite well, but mostly due to impeccable delivery. Gueller’s dynamics and tempo were crisp and exciting. I could have been listening to one of the better performances by any one of the finest orchestras.

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Liszt – Piano Concerto no. 2

Arguably one of the most difficult, technically demanding of all works for piano, it is one that should not be taken on lightly, but heavily, brilliantly, and with gusto. Liszt was able to keep his signature rippling virtuosic runs audible over a full orchestra, and to be able to play like this, one needs finger-pushup strength, along with dexterity.

The soloist, John Ntsepe, was dynamic and dexterous at lower volume, and tenderness he has, but Liszt is also pretty ferocious. I would like to hear Ntsepe releasing his inner lion.

The brass recovered well from a minor mispronunciation, to rejoin the orchestra in an appropriately transcendental experience.

Ntsepe’s finishing flourish revealed that he does have the capability for volume. Usually, although few pianists would like to admit it, the close receives the most hours of practice, and for good reason I suppose: All’s well that ends well. Ntsepe brought the audience to their feet.

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Rachmaninov – Symphony no. 2

1. When you can really enjoy the music of a composer, you can be sure that the orchestra is playing well. The Rachmaninov was oceanic. 1st cello Kristiyan Chernev and orchestra leader Suzanne Martens emerged like jewels. Gueller brought out unusual details, keeping it dynamically interesting through the spine chilling and menacing full devastation of the scary bits, to the beautifully pronounced reconciliation, and a decisive close from the bass strings.

2. The only nit I found to pick was to call Gueller on his foot stamping the moment before the surprise symbol crash, somewhat spoiling the surprise. But he spoilt us in so many other ways, fully capturing the magic-carpet-like excitement and sensuality of my favourite Russian composer.

3. Brilliantly, the orchestra exploded in splendour, breathless, and shining, ending in a masterful fade – the final chord seamlessly merging into silence.

4. For Gueller to make conducting look easy, he must have mastered it. The orchestra was a majestic heard of friendly, wild, galloping horses, and we upon them, a delighted audience.

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Gueller returns to the City Hall podium this coming Thursday 14th August at 8pm. The program begins with the Light Cavalry Overture by Franz von Suppe, (Soo-pay) and continues with Dvorak’s B minor cello concerto, with Zuill Bailey. After the interval: Brahms symphony no. 4.

Bookings at Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat: 021 421 7695

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