Olga Kern, Bernhard Gueller – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Berlioz #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Bernhard Gueller
Soloist: Olga Kern
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday, 11 February 2016

For those who did not brave the chaos of the #ZumaMustFall “state of the nation address” – what a concert!

Ms Kern’s return to her beloved Cape Town was received with an exhilarating sense of wonder, and a feeling that one is very fortunate to be in the audience of such a talented and and inspiring artist.

Olga Kern, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra #ClassicalReview

Olga Kern after the Tchaikovsky, with Bernhard Gueller and the CTPO

Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 3
If striking elegance, wiry strength, and washes of running fluidity are Kern’s calling cards, then last Thursday she played all her aces. I enjoyed her imaginative interpretation of the concerto, which I found fitting as the composer himself was not a pianist, and must have relied greatly on his own imagination when composing piano music. Often reaching beyond what seems possible, his work requires a certain imagination to perform. The cadenza extends belief in the potential of the instrument. With imploding complexity, it culminates in a point of singularity, a trill that sustains until order and believability is restored. It was quite a journey – a riveting performance of brilliant technique and exceptional balance.

And how did the CTPO follow such an astonishing performance? In a sweeping victory of artistic direction…

Tchiakovsky – Eugene Onegin: Polonaise
Yes! Exactly perfect! Already a little bamboozled by the concerto, the audience that night were swept into a triumphant procession of greatness and excitement, the likes of which so few other composers can approach, and the delivery was immaculate. I hope very much that the recording made that night will be available to play on FMR – this performance deserves a place as one of the orchestra’s greatest show pieces. They absolutely nailed it, and they looked like they were having fun! Amazing to be there.

Farida Bacharova, Bernhard Gueller, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra #ClassicalReview

Conductor Bernhard Gueller congratulating concert master Farida Bacharova

And the excitement didnt stop there…

Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
After just a few minutes rest (the Polonaise is only 4 and a half minutes) our soloist was back for one of the most popular works in the repertoire. Conductor Gueller somehow managed to bring the surprises even in such a well loved work. Each variation hit the ground running, or in Ms Kern’s case skimming infinitely like a flat pebble across a tranquil blue lake. The syncopation makes the work challenging for any orchestra, often playing off the beat. With Gueller expertly and sensitively matching the tempo of Rachmaninov’s relentless piano, the CTPO handled this excellently, bringing to us those outstanding moments by Caroline Prozesky horn, Daniel Prozesky clarinet, Farida Bacharova violn, and Eugene Trofimczyk glockenspiel. Kern’s delivery was romantic and lovely, appropriately sublime or mind bending where required. All the favourite variations lived up to high expectations. Beautiful performance Olga Kern! Thank you.

We were treated to an encore: Rachmaninov Moment Musicaux Op. 16 No. 4 – a right hand of graceful power floating over the left hand cascade of stunning technique.

Bernhard Gueller, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra #ClassicalReview

The final downbeat of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Bernhard Gueller with the CTPO

Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique
This is a great peace to watch! There is so much magic and chaos in the sound, that it’s sometimes hard to imagine how the many elements and interruptions can be performed live, in real time, one take. It seems that, aside from conducting this work, one also needs to be an event co-ordinator, and Gueller plied this skill effortlessly along with his signature passion, tasteful balance, and love of surprises. A crown jewel of the symphonic repertoire, it was a rare treat to witness this performance unfolding before our senses. The waltz was a lightly wafting bright hazy afternoon surrealist dream, like elephants in hot air balloons floating around inside the concert hall.

Another show piece for the CTPO, it was an outstanding performance from the whole orchestra. Strings were clean and fresh, brass were strong, amazing performances from all the winds, bassoons mastered a very technical section, completely together. Jaw dropping solos from Gabriele von Durkheim flute, Sergei Burdukov oboe, Olga Burdukov cor anglais, and Daniel Prozesky’s extremely difficult wobbly witch clarinet solo – a tune made of trills – all but stole the show.

Olga Kern, Victor Yampolsky, Bernhard Gueller

Olga Kern, Victor Yampolsky, and Bernhard Gueller at the reception. Don’t miss Yampolsky next Thursday!

No government interference next week: Thursday 18 Feb

Strauss – Don Juan
Bruch – Violin Concerto No.1
Brahms – Symphony No. 4

Conductor: Victor Yampolsky
Violin: Jack Liebeck


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