FOM Gala Concert – Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO

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Antonio Pompa-Baldi plays Brahms 2 in Cape Town

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 19 November 2015

What an amazing year for classical music in Cape Town! We have seen some of the brightest celebrities on the international circuit – Joshua Bell, Maria Kliegel, and last week Antonio Pompa-Baldi – walking onto the City Hall stage. As a non-profit organisation, FOM will direct all proceeds from this gala to support Cape Town’s orchestras and instrumentalists in 2016.

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Brahms – Symphony no.3
Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

We are very fortunate to have Bernhard Gueller as a frequent guest conductor. His style and sound are characterised by a lyrical balance of sensitivity and surging power. Leading often by the mere change of facial expression, he always brings the best out of the orchestra and last Thursday was no exception, with stunning solos from the wind section – Sergei Burdukov oboe, Caroline Prozesky horne, Daniel Prozesky clarinet, Gabriele von Dürckheim flute – artfully carrying Brahms’ beautiful melodies.

The standard of performance was such that it allowed the natural function of Brahm’s music to emerge. His music has the potential to hold a space for the audience in which they can unpack accumulated stress, mental turmoil, and emotional anguish, and let go. It reaches all the sadness in ourselves and the world and establishes a dogma for it, a system of order that emerges from the wash of emotion. And somehow this dogma is very compassionate, and essentially in the case of this symphony, uplifting and liberating. In the paradoxically private sanctuary of a concert hall, one can experience the feeling of being moved – but only if the delivery is of an exceptional quality, and this was the wonderful case in both works for the FOM Gala Concert.

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Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Antonio Pompa-Baldi after playing Brahms Piano Concerto No.2

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Brahms – Piano Concerto No.2
Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Bernhard Gueller, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

It occasionally bears observing, that Brahms was himself a phenomenal pianist. He invented a previously unknown style of rapidly overlapping, widely spaced arpeggios, that require a somewhat unbelievable grasp of the instrument. It has been a long time since I heard a performance like this, and I don’t think I have ever seen one. Pompa-Baldi’s control of balance and dynamics enable hand-aching technique to sound like soft velvet, the hard edges of the keys seeming to melt into colours. His concerto was a rich luscious painting by an Italian master. There is a sense in his phrasing that speaks of profound mental and emotional understanding of the material, and of exceptional physical expression. The balance in his fingers is stunning, lifting the melody from a rippling accompaniment that spans the entire resister and frequently crosses the melody. His double octaves are astonishing. The orchestra was oceanic and nurturing – a transcendental cello solo from Kristiyan Chernev in the 3rd movement. There was such a tranquillity and beauty to this performance that it may well be remembered as one of the finest moments in the City Hall.

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Bernhard Gueller and Antonio Pompa-Baldi

Bernhard Gueller with Antonio Pompa-Baldi after the concert

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