Reviewed by Andy Wilding
Conductor: Victor Yampolsky
Soloist: François Du Toit
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Wednesday 24 February 2016
We are extremely fortunate to have amongst our academia, performer and Professor of Piano François Du Toit. He is an amazing artist – a master of all the mesmerism and mystery that may be enticed from his instrument. These two concerts were to celebrate his birthday, his fee generously sponsored by Le Lude of Franschhoek (cellar, restaurant, and guest villa). This is exactly the patronage that our beloved classical music needs in order to thrive, and the result was an unparalleled opportunity for the Cape Town audience to attend the most important piano concerto cycle in history.
For the casual music lover, it was a beautiful journey through the development of Beethoven’s composing style, which can also be seen as the development of Romanticism in music. For the academics it was a two-day field trip. The inspiration of many later works can be heard in this concerto cycle – in the cadenza of the second concerto the dotted rhythm of the Charleston is perceptible – (Beethoven later used this rhythm in the second movement of his piano sonata Op 111.) and in the Rondo of the fourth concerto we can hear the idea for the opening chords of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.
Attending this cycle, one has the time to notice the little things about Beethoven’s composing style that made him different from his “Classical” peers. The Rondo of the first concerto for example, features a folk melody – an idea that later became the nationalist spirit of many great romantic composers. Of all the recent concerts in the City Hall that should be broadcast to outer space to let the aliens know about Earth Human music, these two concerts are my choice.
As the First Piano Concerto opened with sensitive winds, warm double basses and celli, and a comfortable crescendo into the first subject, there was a strong cent of Mozart, and a fascination with the inevitable development of passion and romance, like the knocking of fate. Conductor Yampolsky brilliantly managed the orchestra’s frequent tricky entries on the fourth beat, expertly balanced with Du Toit’s clean technique and beautiful dynamics. The cadenza was as profound in it’s moments of breathtaking suspense as it was technically radiant, phrasing and interpretation making perfect sense throughout.
For me, the Adagio was the highlight of the Second Piano Concerto. There was a slight sense of hedonism in being allowed to float rather decadently through the greatest composer’s sweetest dreams. I had the feeling of drifting in a most agreeable experience that I knew would not be over any time soon.
Progressively, the concerti become more virtuosic and challenging for the orchestra, and by the Fourth Piano Concerto, parts are frequently scored in semiquavers for whole sections. Celli and double basses performed outstandingly on such occasions, running and leaping synchronously. The violas had a most beautiful moment – Beethoven’s sonorous mezzos playing just a few bars in two parts – a show stealer. Yampolsky kept respectable tempi and a very tidy ship, particularly with the off-beat quavers echoing the piano in the third movement. Du Toit demonstrated stunning control, plucking melodies from complicated patterns. His pedal technique is incredible – like the focus on a camera, he lifts the sustain and refocuses during trills and runs, giving his performance a polish that I have rarely heard before. He played the entire concert from memory. The audience would not let him leave the stage, they were noisier and happier than I’ve heard them for a very long time.
Cape Town is indeed very fortunate to have a resident performer and Professor such as François Du Toit.