Reviewed by Andrew Wilding
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 11 June 2015
1st half: Dvořák Hussite Overture, Tchaikovsky Pezzo Capriccioso for Cello and Orchestra, Saint-Saëns “Africa”, Grové Bushman Prayers – Anzél Gerber Cello, Ben Schoeman Piano, Aviva Pelham narrator, Yasuo Shinozaki Conductor, CPO
The overture began at the heart of the orchestra, with opening winds projecting a tranquil pastoral scene, delivered with the excellent control that extended throughout the orchestra. The climaxes were hair-raising, with all the grandeur and commitment of a medieval Hussite army, charged with goose-fleshy thundering bass drum rumbles, and the accelerando into the coda was exhilarating! After last night’s performance, this may well have become my new favourite overture.
Anzél Gerber’s Tchaikovsky was a delight in it’s complexity – her dexterous fingers and graceful souring melodies concealing a clearly hard-earned technique within this virtuosic work for cello. And virtuoso was the flavour of the evening… If Saint-Saëns is occasionally overlooked as a great pianist, there was no doubting it after Ben Schoeman’s performance of the Africa fantasy. This highly technical, syncopated work is a juicy challenge for both piano and orchestra. Schoeman rose to that challenge with accuracy and sensitivity, and the orchestra held his syncopated framework together with the kind of wonder that one finds in architectural structures that have much of the load-bearing rhythm removed, and seem to defy possibility. It requires a master navigator to hold a flight like this together, and we were fortunate to have an experienced pilot such as Shinozaki on the podium.
I enjoyed the “Bushman Prayers” by Stefans Grové more than I expected after hearing his “Figures in the Mist” in October last year, which I found difficult to access. To quote Ben Rabinowitz: “In art we know when we like, but in music we like what we know.” – It’s quite possible that my ear is tuning in to Grové’s extended tonalities and rhythms, or perhaps Aviva Pelham’s passionate delivery of the prayers (poems by Dia!Kwain) helped connect the awkward, hungry, dissonant sounds, particularly in the first movement – Prayer to the Sun. But it was with the second movement that I connected most deeply: Prayer to the Moon. Gerber and Schoeman, to whom the work was dedicated, created a most beautiful, hauntingly mysterious Moon-rise that seemed to hover larger than life, as if we could see every canyon and crater on the Moon’s surface. The work is rhythmically extremely challenging, and well handled between Shinozaki and the percussion section.
2nd half: Sibelius Symphony no. 1 – Yasuo Shinozaki, CPO
There are few mediums beyond religion in which a gifted artist can describe God, but symphony is one such medium, and Sibelius is one such artist. From the eerie opening by Beatrix du Toit and Christoph Müller, (clarinet and timpani) conductor Shinozaki demonstrated a level of comfort that enables him to alternate between crystalline precision in his direction of details, and relative freedom in sections where the orchestra can safely continue at their present tempo. Another highly technical and rhythmically unusual work, the performance of this symphony requires the highest level of skill from both conductor and orchestra, and last night we were reminded of the world class calibre of the CPO. Shinozaki was dynamic and pragmatic in his interpretation, highlighting melody and subduing background, and the resulting sound was the symphony that the composer intended, an accessible print of Sibelius’ experience in lofty profundity and dogmatic human limitation.
Is this your favourite symphony? Please take the Classical Top 100 survey!
Next week the CPO returns to the City Hall with conductor Victor Yampolsky, Olivier Charlier violin, Elizabeth Frandsen mezzo, and Esewu Nobela tenor:
Glinka – A Life For The Tsar
Mozart – Violin Concerto No.3
Scriabin – Symphony No.1